LOS ANGELES: Roger Moore, the handsome English actor who appeared in seven films as James Bond and as Simon Templar on “The Saint” TV series, has died in Switzerland after a short battle with cancer. He was 89.
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.
“Octopussy” (1983) marked a downward turn in the franchise’s fortunes, with B.O. of $183.7 million, and 1985’s “A View to a Kill” saw the actor ready to surrender his license to kill, taking in a little over $150 million.
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).
During his 13 years as 007, Moore landed feature roles in other actioners, 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.”
He became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1991 and had been an active advocate for children’s causes. In 1999, he was honored by the British government with the title Commander of the British Empire.
Moore was born in Stockwell, South London. Despite health problems, Moore excelled at school and took an early interest in art and drawing. His grammar school education was interrupted by the start of WWII; he and his mother spent most of the war in Amersham, 25 miles outside of London.
In 1943, Moore decided to leave school and pursue work in animation at Publicity Pictures Prods., where he was a junior trainee in cartooning. But mishandling of some celluloid brought a swift conclusion to that career path.
Moore began his long acting career during the summer of 1944, when a friend recommended that he seek work as an extra on the film “Caesar and Cleopatra,” which brought Moore a walk-on role and the attention of co-director Brian Desmond Hurst, who was impressed with the looks of the tall, thin young man and secured him extra parts in two subsequent pics.
Moore was married to skater Doorn Van Steyn, singer Dorothy Squires, Italian actress Luisa Mattioli and finally to Danish-Swedish multimillionaire Kristina “Kiki” Tholstrup. He is survived by Tholstrup; a daughter, actress Deborah Moore; and two sons, Geoffrey Moore, an actor, and Christian Moore, a film producer.