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Actor Kiel, who played Jaws, take new role: author

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Actor Richard Kiel, best known for playing the steel-toothed villain Jaws in two James Bond movies, has taken on a new role - author.

Actor Richard Kiel, best known as the steel-toothed villain Jaws in the James Bond movies, has taken on a new role -- author -- and is photographed here by professional photographer Dennis DiSilva in Kiel's backyard in 2007. REUTERS/Handout

Kiel, 68, has spent 25 years researching the life of Cassius Marcellus Clay, a white plantation owner and politician who fought for the abolition of slavery and after whom the boxer Muhammad Ali and his father were named.

It has culminated in the release of a book, “The True Story of Cassius Clay: Kentucky Lion,” out this month, which Kiel co-authored with Pamela Wallace, the Oscar-winning co-writer of the movie “Witness.”

Kiel said he became fascinated with Clay when he visited Kentucky 25 years ago and realized this forgotten American hero, who freed the slaves on his plantation, challenged stereotypes about the south and racism there.

“I hope to bring a fresh breeze of truth and positive feeling so people feel differently about the south and its people, not just because my wife comes from there but we need the truth to be free of this prejudice,” he told Reuters.

“Here is a guy who put his life on the line and could not be stopped. It’s a positive side of history that should told.”

Kiel said Clay’s story clashed with Muhammad Ali’s contention that he changed his name to get rid of a name that symbolized his ancestors’ enslavement.

Clay campaigned against slavery and the mistreatment of slaves from an early age and as Kentucky state representative.

The personal cost for Clay was high. He lost his marriage, his friends. He was the target of assassination plots, and his son was murdered in an attempt by wealthy slave owners to silence him. Clay died in 1903 at the age of 93.

“What a shame that Muhammad Ali knows nothing about this,” said Kiel.

To honor Clay’s legacy, Kiel said he is donating half his royalties to a scholarship fund for qualified but financially disadvantaged students, black or white, to attend Berea College in Kentucky, a university Clay helped establish.

Kiel said Clay’s story would make a fascinating movie.

“It is an actor’s dream role and makes me wish I was 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds so I could be cast in the role. His life was so full of action, daring, romance and murder,” he said.

Kiel, however, towers above Clay at 7 feet 1.5 inches (217 centimeters) tall and weighing 345 pounds. He is now confined to a wheelchair, the outcome of a bad car accident in 1992.

Kiel remains best known as Jaws but he doesn’t mind.

“That role catapulted me into a worldwide known person even though it is not my favorite acting role,” he said. “It paid off. I have done dozens of commercials as Jaws that paid to put my (four) kids through college.”

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