Sir Roger George Moore, who gave the most light-hearted and debonair portrayal of the English superspy 007, died on Tuesday at the age of 89. His epitaph should be written with the proper Bond credits, a grand pop ballad and cutout silhouettes of men shooting guns and lithe women go-go dancing, although Mr. Moore, who made a virtue of modesty, would probably have had none of it.
The actor, who took on the role of Bond at the age of 45, was an already established TV star when he joined the globally famous franchise. He played Bond between 1973 and 1985, in seven of the two dozen movies in the franchise, maintaining a light, escapist touch in his films, which took place during the deep freeze of real-life Cold War anxieties.
Although Mr. Moore wasn't the most forceful incarnation of the Bond character, he did reflect a more swinging, carefree sensibility.
In the current millennium, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the rise of serious comic-book movies, heroism is defined in terms of trauma and terrible responsibility, as with the most recent Bond, Daniel Craig, whose character is brooding and brutal. Mr. Moore was more allied with an older model, in the Cary Grant mode, emphasizing grace, humour and persistent randiness in the face of potential calamity.
The Bond role had been defined by Sean Connery in the 1960s as a character with a dangerous sexual swagger. (George Lazenby, who played Bond in the romantic 1969 movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was overshadowed by the two more famous Bonds.) Mr. Moore was chosen not for his similarity to hairy-chested Connery, but for his dandyism.
Mr. Moore had already established his persona as a suave cloak-and-dagger expert in two previous TV series. In The Saint (1962-69) he played Simon Templar, a sly operative who steals from bigger thieves. In his subsequent series, The Persuaders! (1971-72), he co-starred as an Oxford-educated swell who teams up with a streetwise Brooklyn-raised tough, played by Tony Curtis, to bring criminals to justice.
Mr. Moore's typically upper-crust persona was, arguably, his most artfully sustained performance. He was born in South London on Oct. 14, 1927, in fairly humble circumstances, the son of a policeman. He dropped out of school in his teens. After a stint in the army, he eventually ended up at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he learned to lose his accent. While working as a repertory actor, he supplemented his career with stints as a model for knitwear and toothpaste.
He moved to Hollywood in 1953, landing at MGM with a seven-year contract, but was let go after two. (Eventually though, he found his métier as a sort of Cary Grant-lite in a series of television shows, including Ivanhoe, The Alaskans, Maverick and, later, the lead roles in The Saint and The Persuaders!
"There was no sudden moment when I was famous," he told a British newspaper in 2014. "It was all sort of gradual."
When Mr. Moore joined the Bond franchise, the writers of the series worked around the actor's already established image as an international playboy. Mr. Moore added to Bond's persona some of his personal predilections, including safari suits and cigars (rather than cigarettes) and the writers emphasized style over toughness.
Mr. Moore's Bond films – Live and Let Die (1973), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985) – earned more than $1-billion dollars (U.S.) in global box-office earnings.
While films such as The Spy Who Loved Me continue to rate highly on the best-of-Bond lists, others have not held up so well. By the eighties, the Bond films bordered on camp, filled with ever-more gadgets, double entendres and comic-book plots. In Octopussy, for example, Bond disguises himself as a clown, while Moonraker has action scenes set in outer space. Mr. Moore embraced the silliness. In the 1981 comedy, The Cannonball Run, he played a character so obsessed with Roger Moore that he had plastic surgery to look like Roger Moore.
In 2004, Sean Connery described the difference between himself and Mr. Moore this way: "His is a sort of parody of the character, as it were, so you would go for the laugh or the humour at whatever the cost of the credibility, the reality. I think that's basically the difference."
For Mr. Moore, the premise of Bond itself was too absurd to justify high seriousness. As he told Entertainment Weekly: "This is a famous spy – everyone knows his name and every bartender in the world knows he likes martinis shaken, not stirred. Come on, it's all a big joke! So most of the time I played it tongue-in-cheek."
In interviews, Mr. Moore was down to earth and exaggeratedly self-deprecating, He would even bring it up in interviews that he was considered "the worst James Bond ever, according to the Internet" (although Academy Award polls in 2004 and 2008 rated him the Best Bond). He also played along with a joke first made about him by the English Spitting Image satire puppet show that he acted only with his eyebrows, saying he "only had three expressions as Bond: right eyebrow raised, left eyebrow raised and eyebrows crossed when grabbed by 'Jaws.'"
In fact, the subject Mr. Moore seemed to enjoy bragging about the most was his modesty. In the first of his two memoirs, My Word is My Bond, published when he was 80, he described himself as "a suave, modest, sophisticated, talented, modest, debonair, modest and charming individual."
In his second book, One Lucky Bastard: Tales from Tinseltown, written three years ago, he wrote that his proctologist, after reading his earlier book, congratulated him, saying he'd seen him "from a whole new angle."
In 1991, following the lead of his friend Audrey Hepburn, Mr. Moore became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. He earned a knighthood in 2003 for his charitable work. Married to his fourth wife, Kristina (Kiki) Tholstrup, Mr. Moore spent his last years between Monaco and Switzerland, where he died.
Although Mr. Moore's writing reveals the compulsive jokester behind the suave persona, he also had a philosophical side. His last book was about famous friends and acquaintances, most of whom "have shuffled off this mortal coil." (The book's English title was Last Man Standing.) He said his philosophy on death came from a bad television play he did years ago, which had one memorable passage: "When one dies one has actually just gone into another room; we know you're in there but don't have the key to get in."
"That line has always stuck in my mind," Mr. Moore wrote. "And now, being one of the last men standing, I'm finding that a great many of my friends are in the next room."