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Sir Roger Moore is dead at 89. His James Bond was a secret comedic genius.

Moore was 007 at his most quintessential, during the franchise’s most ridiculous era.

Look Women Of The Year Awards 2015
Roger Moore in 2015.
Photo by Monika Fellner/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Sir Roger Moore, a cinema legend for his portrayal of James Bond, died in Switzerland on Tuesday at the age of 89.

Moore’s family announced that Moore had passed away after a “short but brave battle with cancer” in a public statement released on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Moore surpassed his predecessor Sean Connery as the actor who starred in the most Bond films. Over the course of a decade, from 1973’s Live and Let Die to 1985’s A View to a Kill, Moore played 007 a total of seven times. Moore was also known for his starring role in The Cannonball Run as well as the popular television series The Saint, in which he played the charmingly roguish criminal Simon Templar. (Moore famously joked that the primary difference between his acting as Bond and his acting as Templar was that “in The Saint, I did raise my eyebrow.”)

Moore maintained his celebrity status after the Bond films, focusing primarily on cameos and voice acting and continuing to work up until his death. A political conservative, Moore moved to the continent in 1978 to avoid paying taxes, living in Switzerland and Monaco. The queen knighted him in 2003 as a commendation for his charity work for UNICEF and Kiwanis.

Offscreen, Moore was known for his charm and his wit, churning out cynical quips about acting and Hollywood, and frequently being wryly self-deprecating about his own acting talent.

But his 12-year turn as Bond was among the most memorable performances of the 20th century, and Moore featured in many of the most famous Bond moments on record.

Moore sold Bond when the Bond films were at their most ridiculous

Moore’s Bond era was perhaps its most cheekily ridiculous; as a series that had started out as tongue-in-cheek satire, it had rapidly trended toward bigger action scenes, over-the-top gadgets, and showboating self-parody. Moore’s primary job was to merge Bond’s charm with his rougher, beefier side through the franchise’s many fight scenes — like the famous palace fight from 1983’s Octopussy:

But he also managed to imbue the character with all of Connery’s wit and cunning, as seen in 1979’s Moonraker, when he plays cat and mouse with Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax:

In many ways, Moonraker is perhaps the ultimate Roger Moore film and the ultimate Bond film. It’s bursting with hilariously over-the-top fight scenes, a lavish score, gorgeous women, and the franchise’s typical round-the-world set tour. And Moore is at his best throughout, whether he’s dropping innuendo or henchmen:

The strength of Moore’s Bond is that he seems to be a fully self-aware, good-humored participant in all of this implausible mayhem. “Bond really wasn’t a spy because everybody knew him,” Moore joked in a delightful 2015 appearance on Loose Women. It takes a great comedian to pull off the role of straight man; Moore played the wry straight man to his own bombastically over-the-top series.

Just as Moore himself was a wry commentator on Hollywood throughout his life, his Bond became a commentator on his own trajectory. Connery’s Bond era saw 007 evolving from a satirical action hero to a sincere one. In Moore’s Bond era, he became a self-aware fusion, elevating the action genre to new heights with charm and aplomb. (But no raised eyebrows.)

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