Roger Moore, James Bond in the ’70s and ’80s, Dies at 89

Joal Ryan
Contributor
Roger Moore

Roger Moore, the tall, blue-eyed James Bond star whose deft touch helped lift the spy-action franchise to new box-office heights in the 1970s and 1980s, died today in Switzerland at age 89. His family posted a letter to the actor’s Twitter account, confirming his death “after a short but brave battle with cancer.”


Moore starred in seven straight 007 adventures, the longest such streak of any Bond actor to date, including Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill.

The Star Wars-influenced Moonraker reigned as the top-grossing Bond film for nearly 20 years. It and 1983’s Octopussy remain among the film series’ top 10 all-time hits at the U.S. box office.

Roger Moore’s most memorable moments as James Bond:

Moore was the fourth big-screen Bond, after Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and David Niven, who portrayed author Ian Fleming’s signature character in the 1967 comedy Casino Royale, a title later used for the dead-serious 2006 Daniel Craig 007 film.

Moore and Lazenby arguably had the toughest Bond jobs of all: Both were tasked with succeeding the iconic Connery. Lazenby quit the franchise even before the release of his lone entry, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Moore stayed with the series — and played to his strengths.

“I couldn’t do Bond straight,” he once said — likely with eyebrow arched.

Roger Moore as James Bond in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’: Watch ‘Ski Chase’:

Born Oct. 14, 1927, in London, Moore began nabbing minor work in the British film industry as a teenager. After a stint in the British Army, the 6-foot-2 Moore began his Hollywood career. In 1954’s The Last Time I Saw Paris, he shared the screen with Elizabeth Taylor; in 1956’s Diane, he costarred with Lana Turner.

Moore, however, became a leading man via TV, not the movies. In 1958, he played the title role in the British-produced adventure series Ivanhoe. A couple of years later, the suave Brit was recruited to fill the vacuum created by the departure of James Garner on the hit western Maverick. (True to form, Moore played a suave Brit, Beau Maverick, the Maverick family’s long-lost cousin.)

Though the self-deprecating Moore liked to joke he was a series- and genre-killer — Maverick, for instance, lasted only a season and a half sans Garner — Moore winked his way to international fame on the 1962-69 series The Saint; Moore starred as master thief Simon Templar.

As The Saint wrapped production, James Bond, first brought to the big screen by Connery in 1962’s Dr. No, was at a crossroads. Connery had walked out on the franchise after 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Then Lazenby bailed, to be followed out the door by Connery, who had returned for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.

Moore was an old friend of then-Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and was signed to a three-picture deal to be the new Bond.

Where Connery brought a brawny menace to Bond, Moore packed a lighter punch.

“First of all, my whole reaction [to the character] was always — he is not a real spy,” Moore told the New Yorker. “You can’t be a real spy and have everybody in the world know who you are and what your drink is. That’s just hysterically funny.”

The actor’s first entry, Live and Let Die, released in 1973 when Moore was 45, came up short at the box office versus the latter-day Connery 007 films. His next film, 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, featuring a memorable Bond villain in Christopher Lee, fared even worse; it remains the second-lowest-grossing Bond movie ever. Both movies were viewed as obvious attempts to keep up with the genre competition: blaxploitation and martial arts, respectively.

‘Live and Let Die’: Watch trailer for Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond:

“I’m sure people came to my first Bond picture to see if I could carry on from Sean Connery. The second time they came to see if I would maintain the level of mediocrity I established,” Moore said to United Press International in 1977 upon the release of The Spy Who Loved Me. “This time out I believe people are curious about whether I’ve improved at all.”

As it turned out, Moore improved a great deal. The Spy Who Loved Me was a big hit, bumping Star Wars, however briefly, from its No. 1 spot atop the weekend box-office standings. In a 2014 retrospective, RogerEbert.com’s Gerardo Valero called the over-the-top film “outlandish” but also “one of the top five James Bond movies.”

Moonraker was more wink-wink Bond and an even bigger hit than The Spy Who Loved Me. It grossed a then-franchise-record $210.3 million at the worldwide box office.

As Moore reached his mid-50s, the franchise puttered along with the generally well-regarded For Your Eyes Only.

In 1983, Moore’s Octopussy and Connery’s Never Say Never Again, a Bond film and remake of 1965’s Thunderball from a rival producer, were released within four months of each other.

In case audiences had trouble telling the two 007s apart, Moore offered a quick reference guide: “I’m thinner and have whiter teeth,” he quipped.

Neither 1983 Bond film won over critics; Octopussy scored the win at the box office.

Roger Moore as James Bond in ‘Octopussy’: Watch the ‘Missile’ clip:

By 1985’s A View to a Kill, Moore was pushing 60 and a couple of years prior had been declared “too old” to play Bond by none other than Connery.

In 1986, Moore declared himself done the character.

I had a lot of fun playing Bond … [but] it was jolly hard work,” he said.

Moore was succeeded in the role by Timothy Dalton.

Following his 12-year run as Bond, Moore was largely relegated to satires and goofs, from Spice World to the animated Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. (In the latter film, his character was named Tab Lazenby, a nod to the actor who preceded him as Bond.)

If Moore’s post-Bond career did not ascend to the Oscar-winning heights of Connery, then the actor did not expect it to do otherwise.

Next to Sean, I’m a comedian. Sean is a great actor, that’s all there is to it,” Moore once said. “I can never do what he has done outside Bond.”

And though Moore expressed the occasional regret that he lacked the qualities to play a villain, he was fine with his lot.

“I never had any burning ambition,” Moore said. “That’s why I’ve been so happy most of my life.”

Moore even knew how to handle his legacy as judged by the most dastardly group of all: online critics.

I’m the worst Bond, according to the Internet. Generally hated! I was too funny, too light. Didn’t take it seriously enough,” a “quite proud” Moore told London’s Telegraph.

Per usual, Moore was too quick to belittle himself. His seven Bond films — six more than Lazenby, five more than Dalton, three more than Pierce Brosnan, and three more than Daniel Craig — have their fans.

“Not only did Moore look the part and bring his own genuine authority to 007, he made a fantastic success of his tenure, having the [smarts] not to try to beat Connery at his own game but, rather, to introduce a degree of eyebrow-driven levity to the series,” the Telegraph judged in a ranking of Bond actors. (Moore placed second, behind Connery.)

Whereas Connery retired from film and public life, Moore regularly weighed in with memoirs, including 2012’s Bond on Bond, and opinions of 007s past and present. He was an especially big fan of Craig, the big-screen’s incumbent spy; Moore called him “the Bond.”

By all appearances, Moore’s personal life was more sedate than Bond’s, though a contentious and expensive divorce from his third wife, Luisa Mattioli, did make for headlines. In 2002, he wed his fourth wife, Kristina Tholstrup, who survives him.

In 2003, Moore, a longtime UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

“Her Majesty said I’d been involved with charities for a long time, but she supposed that people will always call me 007,” Moore said. “I said that I didn’t mind because I was paid money for it!”

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