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The Saint Before The Spy: Actor Roger Moore Dies At 89


The British actor Roger Moore has died after a short battle with cancer. He was 89 years old. Moore was the dapper star of TV's "The Saint." He went on to become the longest serving of the many actors who have played James Bond. By some measures, Moore was the most popular 007 and the most laid back. NPR's Bob Mondello has this remembrance.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: He was the saint before he was the spy.


MONDELLO: In fact, it was his contract for the television series that kept him from trying out for the role of James Bond initially. Sean Connery got the part of 007 in "Dr. No," and Moore had to settle that same year for a runaway success on TV as a charming, debonair Robin Hood of sorts, Simon Templar.


ROGER MOORE: (As Simon Templar) People in restaurants always look terribly shocked when somebody shouts or yells. I kind of enjoy it. It adds a zest to living.

MONDELLO: Templar was a dashing master criminal who stole from rich villains every week often while solving crimes that flummoxed the police. He did this in exotic locales surrounded by beautiful women for the better part of a decade. And when Sean Connery let it be known that he'd grown tired of doing something remarkably similar as 007, Moore shifted to the big screen in "Live and Let Die."


MOORE: (As James Bond) Black queen on the red king, Miss...

JANE SEYMOUR: (As Solitaire) Solitaire.

MOORE: (As James Bond) My name name's Bond, James Bond.

MONDELLO: No one's ever likely to wear a tux in this role quite as naturally as Roger Moore.


MOORE: (As James Bond) Rather a sweeping statement considering we've never met.

MONDELLO: He was more than movie star handsome when he took the part in his mid-40s. He was male model handsome. He had in fact been a model early in his career. And what he brought to the role of Bond, along with perfect hair and ramrod-straight posture, was a been-there, seen-that quality. He was bemused where Connery had had an edge. Moore's Bond was more relaxed with a sardonic sense of humor even when planning an urgent mission.


MOORE: (As James Bond) I'd like to pay it a discreet visit tonight.

EMILY BOLTON: (As Manuela) Tonight (laughter) - I think you may find that a little difficult.

MOORE: (As James Bond) Difficult or not, it's something we have to do. And meanwhile, how do you kill five hours in Rio if you don't Samba?

MONDELLO: He had such an easy way with a quip that Bond's scriptwriters couldn't resist giving him lots of them, whether he was underwater in the "Spy Who Loved Me" or in outer space in "Moonraker."


MOORE: (As James Bond) Take a giant step for mankind.

MICHAEL LONSDALE: (As Hugo Drax, screaming).

MONDELLO: On Moore's watch, the Bond films became more jokey and gadget oriented, also more broadly popular. His Bond was, many noted, quite different from the character novelist Ian Fleming had created. But it seemed in sync with 1970s audiences. And most of all, it suited laid-back Roger Moore.

When he departed the role at the age of 58, he took half a decade off from acting. And if his return to the screen was hardly to the same acclaim, he seemed bemused by that, too, so much so that he took to spoofing his iconic image in appearances on "The Simpsons" and "The Muppet Show."


MOORE: Please, you really must look.

FRANK OZ: (As Miss Piggy) Oh, Roger, I know what you're thinking.

MOORE: I doubt that.


OZ: (As Miss Piggy) Yes, you're thinking that you are a man, and I am pig.

MOORE: Why would I think that?


OZ: (As Miss Piggy) Roger, sweet, dear, dear Roger, it can work. Roger, we can make it work, yes.

MOORE: But I don't want to make it work.

MONDELLO: Moore was also knighted, became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and wrote memoirs with the titles "My Word Is My Bond" and "One Lucky Bastard." That last is an epithet he often applied to himself in interviews suggesting that he was lucky indeed. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE MARTIN'S "JAMES BOND THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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