He was the epitome of the suave English gent, quipping sweatlessly in a bespoke three-piece suit, who enjoyed an acting career spanning eight decades. On Tuesday, Roger Moore’s children announced his death at the age of 89 in Switzerland, saying: “he passed away today … after a short but brave battle with cancer”.
Moore was best known for playing the third incarnation of James Bond as well as his roles in hit shows The Saint and The Persuaders. He also devoted a lot of his time to humanitarian work, becoming a Unicef goodwill ambassador in 1991.
The actor was born in London in 1927 and, after working as a model in the early 50s, he signed a seven-year contract with MGM. His early movies weren’t particularly memorable, from Interrupted Melody to The King’s Thief, and it was a move to the small screen that brought Moore his first taste of success.
“During my early acting years I was told that to succeed you needed personality, talent and luck in equal measure,” Moore said to the Guardian in 2014. “I contest that. For me it’s been 99% luck. It’s no good being talented and not being in the right place at the right time.”
His first break in TV came in romantic adventure Ivanhoe which was the start of a set of hit shows for Moore, including western Maverick and crime shows The Saint and The Persuaders. The success of The Saint gave Moore an opening in Hollywood yet the resulting spy movies failed to ignite the box office.
Moore had been approached to play the character of James Bond but scheduling conflicts with his television roles meant that he was never available. When Connery had stepped down from the role for good, Moore was asked again and made his first Bond film in 1973, the well-received Live and Let Die. He went onto star in another six films as 007 over a period of 12 years, making him the longest running actor in the role. When he finally retired from the role in 1985, he was 58.
“Being eternally known as Bond has no downside,” Moore told the Guardian. “People often call me ‘Mr Bond’ when we’re out and I don’t mind a bit. Why would I?”
After handing over the reins to Timothy Dalton, Moore took a break from the spotlight and didn’t make another film until 1990. From then on, his acting work became sparse, including small roles in Spice World and Boat Trip.
In 1999, Moore was awarded a CBE which then became a knighthood in 2003, given to him for his charity work. Moore’s decision to become a Unicef goodwill ambassador was actually based on his friendship with Audrey Hepburn, who had also worked with the same charity.
“The knighthood for my humanitarian work meant more than if it had been for my acting,” Moore said to the Guardian. “I’m sure some people would say, “What does an actor know about world issues?” But [working for Unicef] I’ve become an expert on things from the causes of dwarfism to the benefits of breastfeeding. I feel very privileged.”
Moore also wrote two books about his time as Bond as well as two autobiographies, the most recent of which was 2014’s Last Man Standing. When asked by Time in 2012 who his favourite Bond was, he changed his mind from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.
“You can either grow old gracefully or begrudgingly,” he said to GQ in 2008. “I chose both.”
Moore is survived by his wife, Kristina Tholstrup, and three children.