Roger Moore, the handsome English actor who appeared in seven films as James Bond — the most of any Bond actor — and as Simon Templar on “The Saint” TV series, has died in Switzerland after a short battle with cancer. He was 89.
His family issued an announcement on Twitter: “It is with the heaviest of hearts, we must share the awful news that our father, Sir Roger Moore, passed away today. We are all devastated.”
Moore appeared in more official Bond pics than his friend Sean Connery over a longer period of time, and while Connery’s fans were fiercely loyal, polls showed that many others favored Moore’s lighter, more humorous take on 007.
In 1972, Moore was asked to join Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He took on the mantle of 007 for 1973’s “Live and Let Die,” which would lead to six more turns as England’s top spy. In addition to reviving the franchise at the B.O. after waning prospects at the end of Connery’s run, the new James Bond relied on more humor in stories that cranked up the camp.
Moore as Bond began to shake off the Connery comparisons and pick up speed after 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” launched the series into super-blockbuster status, raking in $185.4 million worldwide. Next up, the outer space-traveling “Moonraker” (1979) cumed $202 million and 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only” took $194 million.
His next roles were in “Octopussy” (1983) and 1985’s “A View to a Kill,” in which he surrendered his license to kill.
The young actor came to the U.S. in 1953. MGM signed him to a contract and he received supporting work on several pictures. He played a tennis pro in 1954’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” with Elizabeth Taylor. The role was one of several in the ’50s that hinged on his tall, athletic good looks.
He would often play royalty or military characters.
Moore had his first taste of smallscreen stardom from 1956-58 as the lead, Sir Winfred, in ITV’s “Ivanhoe.” While still drawing film roles, he would continue to star in TV programs, following “Ivanhoe” with short-lived ABC Western “The Alaskans” and replacing James Garner in “Maverick” in 1960-61 (Moore played British cousin Beau Maverick). By the time he arrived on “Maverick,” its popularity was waning, but Moore won over the cast and crew with his good humor and charm, on-set qualities for which the actor would be known throughout his career.
In 1962, Moore began playing one of the roles that would define his celebrity, dashing thief Simon Templar, who would steal from rich villains each week on “The Saint.” The show ran 118 episodes, transitioning from B&W to color and finally wrapping in 1969. The British skein initially ran in syndication in the States but was part of NBC’s primetime schedule from 1967-69.
Stories would feature exotic locales, beautiful women and plenty of action, elements shared with the bigscreen tales about a certain British spy of the era. Ironically, it was the “Saint” contract that prevented Moore from competing for the role of 007 when Sean Connery was cast in 1962’s “Dr. No.”
Moore returned to the big screen with a pair of forgettable thrillers in ’69 and ’70. Despite having sworn off TV, he was subsequently lured back for “The Persuaders.” The show, which featured Moore and Tony Curtis as millionaire playboy crime-fighters, ran only one season; it was successful in Europe but failed in its run on ABC in the U.S.
During his 13 years as 007, Moore landed feature roles in other action films, but none that would compete with the Bond franchise. Movies from that period include 1978’s “The Wild Geese,” with Richard Burton and Richard Harris, and 1980’s “ffolkes” with James Mason and David Hedison, who played CIA agent Felix Leiter in “Live and Let Die.”
The actor took great fun in skewering his slick image offscreen and on-, including appearances in “Cannonball Run” and TV’s “The Muppet Show,” in which he struck out with Miss Piggy; in the 2002 comedy “Boat Trip,” he played a flamboyant homosexual with some Bond-like elements, and in 2004 he lent his voice to animated short “The Fly Who Loved Me.”