Prince Yaphet Frederick Kotto (born November 15, 1937) is an American actor, known for numerous film roles, and his starring role in the NBC television series: Homicide: Life on the Street.
Kotto was born in New York City, the son of Gladys Marie, a nurse and army officer, and Avraham Kotto (originally named Njoki Manga Bell), a businessman and the Crown Prince of Cameroon. Kotto's father, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, was an observant Jew who spoke Hebrew, and Kotto's mother converted to Judaism before marrying his father. Kotto's great-grandfather King Alexander Bell ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late 19th century and was also a practicing Jew. Kotto has said that his paternal family originated from Israel and migrated to Egypt and then Cameroon, and have been African Jews for many generations.
Being Black and Jewish gave other children even more reason, he has said, to pick on him growing up in New York City. "It was rough coming up," Kotto said. "And then going to shul, putting a yarmulke on, having to face people who were primarily Baptists in the Bronx meant that on Fridays, I was in some heavy fistfights".
By the age of 16, he was studying acting at the Actor's Mobile Theater Studio, and at 19, he made his professional acting debut in Othello. He also was a member of the Actors Studio in New York. Kotto got his start in acting on Broadway, where he appeared in The Great White Hope, among other productions.
His film debut was in 1963 in an uncredited role in 4 For Texas, but his first big break came in Nothing But a Man in 1964. He played a supporting role in the 1968 caper film The Thomas Crown Affair. He played John Austun, a confused Marine Lance Corporal, in the 1968 episode "King Of The Hill" on the first season of Hawaii 5-0. In 1973 he landed the role of the James Bond villain Mr. Big in Live and Let Die, as well as roles in Across 110th Street and Truck Turner. Kotto portrayed Idi Amin Dada in the 1977 television film Raid on Entebbe. He also starred as an auto worker alongside Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel in the 1978 film Blue Collar.
The following year he played one of his best-known roles, as Parker in the sci-fi/horror film Alien. He followed with a prominent supporting role in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker. In 1987, he appeared in the hit futuristic sci-fi movie The Running Man and in the 1988 comedy Midnight Run, in which he portrayed Alonzo Mosely, an FBI agent determined to bring in Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) to turn states' evidence against the Mob.
He played Lieutenant Al Giardello in the television series Homicide: Life on the Street. The Giardello character reflected Kotto's own ethnic complexity, portrayed as a widower and the product of an African-American mother and Italian American father. At reflective times, the Giardello character would recall the tough lot of being a Baltimore, African-American police officer during the turbulent 1960s. His character would lapse into Sicilian, or quote Sicilian sayings to his detectives.
He has written two books: Royalty, and The Second Coming of Christ, and also wrote scripts for Homicide: Life on the Street.
Kotto appeared in TV Nation in an experiment to see who would have more trouble getting a taxi - a distinguished black actor or a white felon.
Kotto is an observant Jew. He has been married three times, and has five children. Kotto married Tessie Sinahon in July 1998, they currently live in Baltimore, Maryland. His son, Fredrick Kotto, is a police officer with the City of San Jose, California. Yaphet Kotto's daughter, Mirabai Kotto has two children, one boy by the name of River Blue, and one girl named Willow. Kotto's youngest daughter Salina has one daughter named Avery, she is due to give birth to a second child in July 2008.
Kotto claims to have uncovered proof that he is the great-great-great-grandson of Britain's Queen Victoria. According to Kotto, the Queen's son Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) had an illicit affair with Princess Nakande, daughter of King Doualla Manga Bell, producing the light-skinned Alexander Bell, Kotto's great-grandfather. Queen Elizabeth's deputy press secretary denied the story, saying, "Edward VII never visited Cameroon".
Kotto campaigned for Steve Forbes' bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in the 2000 primary. In 2008, Kotto announced himself as a candidate for President.