Roger Moore, suave actor who held James Bond role the longest, dies at 89

May 23, 2017, 05:00 PM

An obituary from The Washington Post.

By Adam Bernstein

In a career that seemed impervious to critical drubbing, Roger Moore owed his enduring box office appeal to exceptionally good looks, terrific luck and a self-depricating charm.

The English actor, who has died at age 89 in Switzerland, became an international star in playboy-adventurer roles, first on the hit 1960s TV series “The Saint” and later for his tongue-in-cheek film portrayal of the dashing spy James Bond.

The Bond franchise, in particular, cemented his fame like no other role. The movie franchise spun off from Ian Fleming’s novels about an Oxford-educated British spook who was impudent and resourceful, a wizard with women and weaponry, and impeccably dressed but capable of back-alley brutishness.

James Bond became a cultural phenomenon and one of the best-known screen creations of all time, played variously by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Connery helped launch the Bond movies with “Dr. No” in 1962 and defined the role for many viewers. But Mr. Moore was the longest-running Bond — starting with “Live and Let Die” (1973) and ending six films later with “A View to a Kill” (1985).

A London policeman’s son, Mr. Moore credited his mother with ridding him of a working-class accent that might have impeded his portrayal of the supremely cultured Bond. “She was very particular about behavior and manners and the way you treated people,” he once said. “I got a clip round the ear if I said ‘ain’t.’ ”

He began performing onscreen in his teens as a spear-carrying extra on the set of a 1945 Shakespeare production. Despite limited dramatic training, he was propelled to Hollywood stardom by his dazzling blue eyes and enviable blond bouffant. The film critic Rex Reed once wrote that Mr. Moore was frequently “prettier than his leading ladies.”

He became a leading man in the 1950s, although in often-preposterous roles that haunted him for years. In the Lana Turner costume drama “Diane” (1956), Mr. Moore played a 16th-century French prince with all the elan of what one reviewer described as “a lump of English roast beef.”

Claiming he wanted to beat the critics to the punch, Mr. Moore frequently made light of his limitations. “My acting range?” he once quipped. “Left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised.”

He won a following as Simon Templar on the action-romance series “The Saint,” which aired for several years on British TV before landing on NBC from 1967 to 1969 and thereafter in perpetual reruns.

The show, loosely based on the Leslie Charteris novels and featuring a rollicking Edwin Astley theme song, starred Mr. Moore as a gentleman who uses his wealth and wiles to aid the defenseless. As Templar, he addressed the camera in wry asides, luxuriated in fast cars and the company of beautiful women, and was expertly and unfailingly tailored.

For Mr. Moore, Bond was Simon Templar on a grander scale and more satiric.

“My contention about my ‘light’ portrayal of Bond is this: how can he be a spy, yet walk into any bar in the world and have the bartender recognize him and serve him his favorite drink?” he asked in his 2008 memoir, “My Word Is My Bond,” written with Gareth Owen.

“Come on,” he continued, “it’s all a big joke.”

Starting with Mr. Moore, the series relied increasingly on gadgetry and cartoonish excess, such as when Bond jumps across the backs of snapping alligators in “Live and Let Die,” performs a cork-screw car jump over a broken bridge in “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974), skis off a cliff in the opening of “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and evades a guided missile in a pocket-sized jet plane in “Octopussy” (1983).

Mr. Moore, whose other Bond outings included “Moonraker” (1979) and “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), continued to underwhelm reviewers, who used words like bland and passionless to describe the actor’s way with a line and chemistry with his female co-stars. (He was 57 when he retired from the role...