By Lily Rothman
May 23, 2017

It’s rare that a person’s own name is not the only one in the headline on his obituary — but remembrances for Roger Moore, the actor who has died at 89, will inevitably mention the name of the character for whom he was most famous: James Bond.

Though he did not originate the role, he was always a little bit closer to the James Bond persona than was his primary predecessor, Sean Connery.

“[Author Ian] Fleming saw Bond as himself,” producer Harry Saltzman told TIME in 1973, “as a kind of disenfranchised member of the Establishment, Eton, Harrow and Cambridge. And Sean was none of those. Fleming would have been delighted with Roger, however. He is the classic Englishman. He looks good and he moves good.”

So perhaps it’s no surprise that at the time, Moore seemed to have been building toward the role throughout his entire career. When he stepped into Bond’s shoes in Live and Let Die, TIME took a look at how he got there:

While he is, at 44, two years older than Connery, Moore appears much younger, with a boyish look that, for a man licensed to kill, comes perilously close to being pretty. As the Saint [on TV show The Saint] he was a trifle pudgy, and in his last TV series, The Persuaders, his hair was much too long for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. To play the more athletic, squarer Bond, he lost 17 lbs. and went to the barber three times before the makeup men were happy.

The son of a London policeman, Moore quit school when he was 15 to become an artist. Not succeeding at that, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. After a stint as an officer in the British army, he was brought to Hollywood to play the romantic hero in a number of dreary costume dramas. An unhappy round of TV series followed in the ’50s and ’60s, and he eventually went back to England, where he finally achieved stardom as the Saint. Moore now lives in Denham, 20 miles outside London, where he and his third wife Luisa have 17 acres, a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Moore has spent much of his career taking over parts other actors have made famous. He replaced James Garner in the TV series Maverick and followed Movie Actors George Sanders and Louis Hayward as the droll, urbane Saint. “I replace everyone,” he jokes. “I’ll be replacing Mickey Mouse in about three years’ time.” He adds: “I think the Bonds are marvelous subjects — escapist entertainment expensively made. It’s all going for you as an actor. I often stop in the middle of a day’s work and say: ‘Jesus Christ, they’re really going to pay you for being a kid and living out your fantasies!'”

Years later, however, Moore told TIME that there was another factor in his landing the part: While working on The Saint, he developed a gambling habit and wound up playing cards regularly with the Bond producers, so he was already friendly with them when it came time to find someone to take over the part.

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In the same interview, he expressed his belief that the Bond franchise would continue for decades to come — and that moviegoers would also watch and love the older films far into the future. Moore knew that by inhabiting 007 he had assured himself a place in fans’ hearts throughout his lifetime and, now, beyond.

“For 50 years it’s gone on and people go back because it’s an old friend,” he said at the time. “Their fathers may have taken them to see it the first time, and then they take their grandfathers. And Christmas never seems to be Christmas without a Bond movie showing on a television screen somewhere.”

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