The first thing that struck me about Richard Kiel was his size: he's an immense 7-2 and about 340 pounds.
That's the ideal size for not only a movie villain but also friendly sidekick.
Oh sure, I knew he was a big man. But he is huge. Shaking my hand I realized that if he wanted to crush my normal-sized hands into dust he could...without even trying!
The second thing I noticed was his smile, sort of a shy one at first but once our introductions had begun it widened into a warm, comforting smile. The man knows how to deal with people.
I had been lucky enough to win a charity auction for the Children's Cancer Foundation hosted by a Clear Channel Washington radio station, Big 100 (100.3 FM). My prize? A private dinner with Mr. Kiel.
It was my first time dealing one-on-one (actually one-on-two, see below) with an entertainment star, but when he strode aided by a walking stick into the Holiday Inn dining room in Maryland after appearing at a meet and greet, autograph signing day. He quickly made me feel right at home.
"Sorry I'm late," apologized the massive man who has been known as "Jaws" and "The Monster" in his movie rolls over the years. Yes, he had been five minutes late, and no, I didn't care in the least. "I was taking a cat nap when Diane reminded me to get up."
Mr. Kiel introduced me to his lovely wife, Diane, and we settled into our seats. It was the start of a delightful night; one that Richard fascinated me with tales of his years in show business, but more relevant, details of his own life.
Our conversation ebbed and flowed from places the Kiel's have visited, their (now grown) children, hobbies and general talk. Richard did say that the number one question about his acting career is: "The teeth, everyone wants to know about the teeth." Those choppers and his acting as the Jaws character in the James Bond films "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker" made him an, as he says it, "An overnight success after 20 years in the business."
Kiel laughed when I said my earliest recollection of his acting was first in the Burt Reynolds' film "The Longest Yard" when he exclaimed he'd broken someone's "frickin neck" and then in an episode of The Monkees when he appeared as "The Monster." I also remember him as a villain in "The Silver Streak" starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.
Mr. Kiel replied he loved appearing with the Monkees, and that he spent a lot of time talking with band member Michael Nesmith. "They were wonderful, and made me feel at home," he remembered.
Diane also remembered the night, years after her husband's performance on the TV show, that Richard appeared on the same stage prior to three of the four Monkees performing --- Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz.
"My favorite was Davy, and that night after Richard was introduced the Monkees came on to perform. Davy dedicated "Daydream Believer" to me from the stage, it was a very nice gesture."
These days Kiel makes an occasional trip onto the Silver Screen, but spends much of his time visiting or hosting his children and grandchildren and making a few celebrity appearances such as the one in Maryland.
"I like meeting my fans, they are the greatest," said Kiel, who lives in central California.
Both Richard and Diane boasted of their wonderful children, and I marveled at my 13-year-old. Sort of the kind of conversation friends have over the kitchen table. They invited me to the next day's autograph session...as long as I brought my son. I did, and Richard made a big deal of remembering Liam's name and calling us up to the table like old friends.
He autographed a special photo for Liam, who treasures the shot and has it prominently displayed at our house. "He's bigger than in the movies," said Liam, who loved Mr. Kiel as "Mr. Larson" in "Happy Gilmore".
Richard Kiel is a big man with a big heart.