Gotell was born in Bonn, Rhenish Prussia. He started in films as early as 1942, usually playing German henchmen, but others role also, in films like The African Queen (1951), Ice Cold in Alex (1958), The Guns of Navarone (1961), 55 Days At Peking (1963), Lancelot And Guinevere (1963), The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965), Black Sunday (1977), The Boys From Brazil (1978), and Cuba (1979).
Gotell won the role of General Alexis Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me for being a look-alike of the former head of Soviet secret police Lavrentiy Pavlovitch Beria. His first role in the James Bond films came in 1963, when he played the henchman Morzeny in From Russia with Love. Starting in the late 1970s, he played the recurring role of General Gogol in the James Bond series, beginning with The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977. The character returned in Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987). As the Cold War developed, the role of leader of the KGB was seen to change attitudes to the West - from direct competitor to collaborator. His final appearance, as the Cold War began to become less imminent, sees him transferred to a different, more diplomatic role.
Throughout his career, Gotell also made numerous guest appearances in a wide array of television series. He was the chief constable in Softly, Softly: Taskforce for over five years from 1969. He guested in many series including Knight Rider, The A-Team, Airwolf, The X-Files, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, MacGyver, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Cagney and Lacey, The Saint, and many many others.
Gotell was a businessman as well as an actor, and used his acting salaries to fund his business interests. He died in 1997 from cancer. He had one daughter Carol, born 1960.