James “Radio” Kennedy, the South Carolina high school football mainstay whose story inspired the 2003 film Radio, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., has died at age 73.
T.L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones confirmed Kennedy’s death to the Independent Mail, a newspaper in Anderson, SC. Jackie Kennedy, his niece and caregiver, told local TV station WYFF that Kennedy was hospitalized Saturday night before succumbing Sunday morning.
According to Jones, Kennedy had been treated for pancreatitis as well as ongoing diabetes and kidney issues.
Kennedy was a fixture in the school’s football program, earning his nickname by carrying a transistor radio everywhere he went. Kennedy coped with his intellectual disability by steadily attending football games at Hanna in the 1960s. He remained a constant presence at the school until his death. An article in Sports Illustrated brought his story to a national audience, providing the basis for the film.
“He was just a fine, fine man,” Jones told the Independent Mail. “We all loved him. We will miss him incredibly.”
In the film directed by Michael Tollin, Ed Harris played Jones, who develops a unique and potent relationship with Kennedy. Alfre Woodard, Debra Winger and S. Epatha Merkerson were also in the cast. Revolution Studios produced the film, which was released by Sony Pictures. It collected $53.3 million in worldwide box office.
While far from a classic, the film and its real-life inspiration were recognizable enough to cause “RIP Radio” to become a trending topic on Twitter on Sunday.
In a 2003 interview with CBS News, Gooding said his goal in portraying Kennedy was to avoid focusing on the physical manifestations of Kennedy’s disability. “It’s more of a child-like innocence that I saw about him and I kind of hung on to that,” he said.