R. Lee Ermey, who made an acting career out of his ability to bring stern military careerists to life, has died at age 74. His death was announced on Twitter by his manager, Bill Rogin.
Ermey was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor his role as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, but that was only one of his many military roles. Owning to his background as a former Marine Corps. staff sergeant and drill instructor, Ermey was able to project authority and resolute leadership in a number of roles.
Among his many film roles was Mayor Tilman in Mississippi Burning; Bill Bowerman in Prefontaine; Sheriff Hoyt in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, plastic army leader Sarge in the Toy Story films, and Lt. “Tice” Ryan in Rocket Power.
He also hosted the History Channel programs Mail Call, answering questions about military issues; and Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey, which focused on weapons. He also hosted Gunny Time on the Outdoor Channel.
Born in Emporia, Kansas in 1944 as Ronald Lee Ermey, he grew up as a bit of a hell-raiser. Having been arrested for criminal mischief twice by age 17, he was given a choice of jail time or the military. He chose the Marine Corps. and served as a drill instructor in San Diego in the mid 1960s. He was eventually sent to Vietnam and served 14 months in that country. He was later a staff sergeant in Okinawa, but was medically discharged in 1972 because of injuries during his service. He later received an honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant by the Marines.
While in the Philippines attending college, Ermey got his first taste of show business, playing a chopper pilot in Apocalypse Now while serving as a technical advisor on the film to director Francis Ford Coppola. He later appeared as a Marine drill instructor in the film The Boys in Company C before landing his role in 1987 in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Kubrick was impressed with Ermey, allowing him to make up his own dialogue on the set.
That performance, plus his Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, led to a bit of typecasting, but steady work for Ermey. He appeared in more than 55 films and was used as a voice actor in many others, including Roughnecks and X-men 3. He also appeared in video games and numerous TV commercials.
No immediate information on survivors or a memorial service was available.