Roger Moore, the actor perhaps most closely associated with the James Bond role, passed away from Cancer today, about five months shy of his 90th birthday. Along with bringing a light, debonair touch to the role, longevity was one of Moore’s trademarks as Bond: He logged more time (12 years, from 1973 to 1985) and more movies (seven, from Live and Let Die to A View to a Kill) than any of his fellow 007s, and he was the oldest actor to play the role (he was actually three years older than originator Sean Connery). Most other Bonds are identified with a particular decade, and while Moore’s take on the role certainly fits broad ideas about 1970s culture, he proved popular enough in the role to nudge into the ’80s, too — and if Timothy Dalton’s two late-decade outings as Bond remain somewhat underrated, it’s because Moore’s shadow continued to loom over the part.
Moore’s tenure in the role actually kinda-sorta spanned three decades, because he played Bond in a sketch from the comedy series Mainly Millicent in 1964, relatively early in the Connery era. Here’s the full sequence:
It’s a silly, fluffy bit, but watch how adroitly Moore steps into the role, playing Bond attempting to relax on a vacation where his deadly spy occupation won’t leave him alone, fending off attackers and flinging drinks over his shoulder for caution. He doesn’t play up the spoofy elements; he simply works as a slightly more comic, slightly less dangerous, entirely charming version of the super agent. Moore is one of several Bonds who was supposedly in the mix for the role some time before he actually assumed it, and from this early work, it’s easy to see why he was chosen. Even outside of this comedy sketch, his TV background seemed to serve as prep work: He jumped onto the TV series Maverick after James Garner left (playing a different character, but clearly replacing Garner), and did six seasons of The Saint, where he played Simon Templar, a thief who stole from criminals.
But Bond was what made him world-famous, and it’s easy to see why so many people think of Moore as their Bond: He caught so many current fans of the series while they were growing up, and must have seemed impossibly cool (yet also, as he went on, a bit avuncular; all the more reason that younger audiences must have found him a comforting, comfortable presence). There’s less cruelty in Moore’s 007 adventures, and his third film in the role, The Spy Who Loved Me, is considered one of the series’ best.
Moore didn’t work much after he retired from the Bond role in 1985, often taking supporting, voiceover, or spoofy parts (he affirmed his goodhearted Britishness by appearing in 1998’s Spice World). He seemed to enjoy his status as Bond Emeritus, and it’s with no sadness that I say: Yes, James Bond is what he’ll be remembered for. When an actor like Pierce Brosnan seems to be doing sort of a greatest-hits Bond, inevitably he seems to be drawing on Moore’s performance. Hell, when almost any kid born between 1965 and 1980 fantasized about being Bond, they were probably drawing on Moore, too. With today’s news, some fans will undoubtedly feel that a small piece of their childhood has gone away.