Earl Cameron, the trailblazing actor known as Pinder, James Bond’s assistant, in 1965’s Thunderball,has died. He was 102. Considered Britain's first Black movie star, Cameron "passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his wife and family on Friday in Kenilworth in Warwickshire," his rep confirmed to ET.
"Our family have been overwhelmed by the outpourings of love and respect we have received at the news of our father’s passing," Cameron's children said in a statement to ET. "As an artist and as an actor he refused to take roles that demeaned or stereotyped the character of people of colour. He was truly a man who stood by his moral principles and was inspirational."
Born in Bermuda in 1917, Cameron arrived in the U.K. in 1939 and served in the British Merchant Navy before becoming an actor. After working on stage at the West End, he made his on screen debut in 1951's Pool of London. The film broke barriers as the first British movie to feature a biracial relationship, as well as the first mainstream British film to star a Black actor.
He then went on to have roles in Sapphire, The Prisoner and Sidney Poitier’s A Warm December. Cameron landed the small role in the 007 film, Thunderball, in 1965, before becoming a series regular on The Dark Man. He also appeared on Season 4 of Doctor Who, where he reportedly became the first Black actor to play an astronaut on screen, per IndieWire. One of his last projects was a small role in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
“I never saw myself as a pioneer. It was only later, looking back, that it occurred to me that I was," he told the Guardian in 2017.
He also detailed how he struggled as a Black actor, telling the publication, "Unless it was specified that this was a part for a Black actor, they would never consider a Black actor for the part. And they would never consider changing a white part to a Black part. So that was my problem. I got mostly small parts, and that was extremely frustrating – not just for me but for other Black actors. We had a very hard time getting worthwhile roles."
While reflecting on diversity in the industry, he told the Guardian that it had gotten "a little better, not much. It could be a hell of a lot more [diverse]. Life is like that. It’s a wonderful thing, humanity is growing up and realizing we’re all here together on this planet. Why do we need these divisions?"
In 2009, the actor was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), presented by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.
Upon hearing of his death, friends, fans and colleagues took to social media to express their condolences.
We are sorry to hear that Earl Cameron, who played Pinder in Thunderball, has passed away at the age of 102. Our thoughts are with his family at this time. pic.twitter.com/vOQrWQQAf1— James Bond (@007) July 4, 2020
Giant Man. His generation’s pioneering shoulders are what my generation of actors stand on. No shoulders were broader than this gentleman with the voice of god and the heart of a kindly prince. RIP Earl Cameron. 🖤 https://t.co/BTonZcm13x— Paterson Joseph (@ignatius_sancho) July 4, 2020
A total legend. RIP Earl Cameron. https://t.co/d6fZ3CYx6m— David Harewood (@DavidHarewood) July 4, 2020
We're sad to report the death of Earl Cameron, who starred in 'The Tenth Planet' and was one of the first black actors to forge a successful career in British film and television: https://t.co/vfcnYvItQB #DoctorWho pic.twitter.com/JXxRlKw1R6— Doctor Who Official (@bbcdoctorwho) July 4, 2020
Cameron is survived by his second wife Barbara and his children.