American actor (1937-2021). He was born in New York City, the son of a Black Jewish businessman from Cameroon (and by many accounts, a member of the royal family of Cameroon) and a nurse with Panamanian background. They divorced when he was young, and he spent much of his childhood with his grandparents in the Bronx. He dropped out of high school at 16 and spent some time working various odd jobs before he was inspired to try acting after watching Marlon Brando's performance in "On the Waterfront."
Kotto scored some prime roles on Broadway fairly quickly, performing the lead role in "Othello" and taking over James Earl Jones' role as boxer Jack Jefferson in "The Great White Hope." His first film role was a bit part in 1963's "4 for Texas, but he quickly got more significant parts and worked fairly steadily for decades. Some of his best known films included "The Thomas Crown Affair," "The Limit" (which he also directed), "Live and Let Die" (as Dr. Kananga, the best role in a bad movie), "Truck Turner," "Friday Foster," "Raid on Entebbe" (a TV movie -- Kotto won an Emmy for playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin), "Blue Collar," "Alien" (as the hard-nosed engineer Parker -- and has there ever been a film with a better cast?), "Brubaker," "The Running Man," "Midnight Run," "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare," and dozens more.
He also made guest appearances on plenty of TV shows, including "The Big Valley," "Death Valley Days," "Bonanza," "Mannix," "Hawaii Five-O," "Gunsmoke," "Night Gallery," "The A-Team," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Murder, She Wrote," and "seaQuest DSV."
His best known TV role -- and maybe the role he should be remembered for the most -- was as Lt. Al "Gee" Giardello, the half-Black, half-Sicilian shift commander of the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide unit in the glorious and ground-breaking police drama "Homicide: Life on the Street." Giardello was the heart of the show, playing the most physically imposing character in the show (though at 6' 4", Kotto was nearly always the most physically imposing actor on any set), but also the kindest, the most passionate, and the most dedicated to his detectives. Ironically, he was generally not real happy on the "Homicide" set, as he felt he rarely got to do a lot of acting on the show. He usually had a few brief lines in every episode, with the powerhouse acting opportunities going to other actors. He eventually ended up writing a few episodes of the series to give himself some more meat as an actor.
Kotto turned down two big roles in major sci-fi franchises. He turned down the role of Lando Calrissian in "The Empire Strikes Back," fearing that appearing in another science fiction film so soon after "Alien" would leave him typecast as a sci-fi actor. He also turned down the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" because he wanted to focus more on getting film parts. In both cases, it's fun to imagine how his impact would've changed both franchises.
Kotto mostly retired from acting after "Homicide" was cancelled. He appeared in 2008's "Witless Protection," a movie starring Larry the Cable Guy, and in 2014's "Alien: Isolation" computer game, he voiced his old role as Parker.
Kotto died on March 15, 2021 in the Philippines.