At a towering 7 feet 2 inches, Kiel worked in numerous jobs, including as a night-club bouncer and a cemetery-plot salesman, before breaking into film & TV in several minor roles in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Notable among these were the alien "Kanamit" in the classic The Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man" (1962) and as Dr. Loveless's henchman Voltaire on The Wild Wild West.
Kiel turned up in two episodes of the classic horror TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), on one occasion playing a Native American evil spirit with the ability to transform into various animals. On his second appearance, Kiel was unrecognizable as a Spanish-moss-covered Louisiana swamp monster brought to life by a patient involved in deep-sleep therapy.
Kiel's biggest break came in 1977 when he was cast as the imposing steel-toothed henchman "Jaws" in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Kiel also appeared in the next Bond outing, Moonraker (1979). Other movie credits include: Force 10 From Navarone (1978, with Harrison Ford) and the Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider (1985).
Over the next few years, Kiel appeared in relatively non-demanding comedy or fantasy-type films, taking advantage of his physical stature and presence. Kiel then decided to try his hand behind the camera and co-wrote and produced (and played the lead role in) the well-received family movie The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991, with Jack Elam).
Demand for Kiel's unique attributes dropped very sharply in the 1990s, leading to only a handful of roles, including reprising his "Jaws" character in the Matthew Broderick film Inspector Gadget (1999).
In 2002, Kiel penned his informative autobiography entitled Making it BIG in the Movies.
Kiel suffered a leg injury in early September 2014, for which he was hospitalized at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California. On September 10, 2014 Kiel passed away, just a few days shy of his 75th birthday.
- Richard Kiel was the original choice to play the title character in the television series The Incredible Hulk (1978). After 2 days of filming, it was decided that he was not "bulky" enough for the role. He was paid for the two movies of the week and was replaced by Lou Ferrigno. Kiel was happy this happened because he only had sight in one eye and the full contact lenses were bothering him.
- In 1992, Kiel was in a serious automobile accident that affected his balance and afterwards walked using a walking stick or riding a battery-powered scooter if he had to go very far. In the movie Happy Gilmore (1996), he was never seen walking, and almost all of his scenes were from the waist up. There are only two full-body scenes, and both times he is seen leaning on something.
- Worked as a bouncer at a Los Angeles nightclub before being recruited by Arch Hall Sr. for the lead role in Eegah (1962).
- His son Richard George appears in the film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) as the little boy on the beach pointing out to the upcoming car that James Bond is driving from the water.
- Says Kiel, “My wife is 5' 4" and everybody asks me how we do it.”
- A born-again Christian and teetotaler, Kiel was a frequent speaker at religious functions.
- Kiel's height was reportedly result of acromegaly, a hormone disorder (see also Rondo Hatton).
- One of Kiel's other creative pursuits was co-writing Kentucky Lion a biography of Cassius Marcellus Clay, a Kentucky abolitionist who was the (birth) namesake of Muhammad Ali.
- The Human Duplicators (Experiment #420) - as Dr. Kolos
- Eegah (Experiment #506 & The Watch Out for Snakes! Tour) - as Eegah
- The Phantom Planet (Experiment #902) - as Solorite