The Marine who became immortalized by playing a brutal drill instructor in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” has died.
R. Lee Ermey was 74.
“It is with deep sadness that I regret to inform you all that R. Lee Ermey (“The Gunny”) passed away this morning from complications of pneumonia,” his manager Bill Rogin said in a statement posted to Mr. Ermey’s official Twitter account.
“He will be greatly missed by all of us,” Mr. Rogin wrote. “Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed.”
Mr. Ermey enlisted in the Marines in 1961, at age 17, and served in Vietnam before being medically discharged in 1972. He spent some time doing small acting roles and working as a military adviser for TV and movies, the most famous of which was Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
He was initially hired for a similar technical-advice role on Marine drill instructors for “Full Metal Jacket” until Kubrick saw his tape, intended as demonstration for a professional actor, and gave him the role outright. He reportedly improvised most of his own dialogue — a very rare practice for Kubrick, a director known for meticulous planning.
According to critic Roger Ebert, Mr. Ermey’s performance completely dominated the first half of the 1987 film, which also starred Matthew Modine and Adam Baldwin, as he whips green Parris Island recruits into shape “with great brio and amazingly creative obscenity.”
Presidential son Donald Trump Jr. was one of the first to offer condolences online, tweeting out a message with several photos of the two at shooting and sports events. Mr. Ermey was a member of the National Rifle Association.
“Today we lost a legend. I am proud to have had R. Lee Ermey as a friend & teammate. If you thought he was motivating in Full Metal Jacket you should have seen him on the firing line when points mattered. Legendary!!! RIP my friend. #RIPGunny” Mr. Trump wrote.
So memorable was Mr. Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman that he had a career playing fictional authority figures and on Marine- and military-related shows for the next 25 years.
Among his other film roles were as Sarge in the “Toy Story” films, the warden in “SpongeBob SquarePants” and the coach in “Saving Silverman.”
His TV series included two on the History Channel: “Mail Call” on military history, and “Lock N Load with R. Lee Ermey” on firearms and other weapons. He also hosted “GunnyTime” on the Outdoor Channel.
Mr. Ermey even received in 2002 from Gen. James L. Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, an honorary post-service promotion to gunnery sergeant (E-7) — his character’s rank in “Full Metal Jacket” — to thank him for his support of American service members, including work with the USO and military-related charities.
He described himself politically as an independent and said he voted for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, but his career largely ended in the early-10s after he was critical of him at a Toys for Tots event in 2010.
“We should all rise up, and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing because they’re destroying this country. They’re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, and I’m sick and damn tired of it and I know you are too,” he said at the event for the Marine Corps Reserve’s charity.
He apologized later for his “misguided and emotionally biased” comments but he lost some commercial sponsors and later told Fox News he was largely blackballed in Hollywood subsequently.
“Do you realize I have not done a movie in five to six years? Why? Because I was totally blackballed by the … liberals in Hollywood,” he said in 2016. “That’s why I live up in the desert on a dirt road … I don’t have to put up with their crap.”
He and his wife Nila had four children.