Full Metal Jacket star R. Lee Ermey died at a Santa Monica, CA, hospital on Sunday from complications from pneumonia. He was 74. The Kansas-born actor was best known for his Golden Globe-nominated role as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Academy Award-nominated Vietnam film.
A real-life decorated military veteran, Ermey (born Ronald Lee Ermey) served 11 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent over a year in Vietnam rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He turned to acting in the late 1970s and passed away with over 120 credits on IMDb, including acclaimed film roles, as well as appearances on television, video games, and voice-acting credits.
After making an uncredited appearance as a helicopter pilot in Francis Ford Coppola’s acclaimed Vietnam drama Apocalypse Now, it was another Vietnam film that would launch Ermey’s career. Hired as a consultant by Stanley Kubrick for the Parris Island scenes in Full Metal Jacket, Ermey was eventually cast as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a character he’d spend the rest of his career emulating. Hartman is the most memorable character in that film, and his incredible rants and emasculating mockery of the recruits is at the same time laugh out loud funny and hypnotizingly frightening. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and won a Boston Society of Film Critics Award for the role.
Ermey spent much of his career typecast in military roles or law enforcement characters. He had supporting roles in Mississippi Burning, Toy Story, Se7en, The Frighteners, and Saving Silverman. He endeared himself to the horror community as Sheriff Hoyt in the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well as the 2006 prequel. He also hosted several military-based TV series including Mail Call and Lock-n-Load, both running on the History Channel in the mid 2000s.
He leaves behind his wife Nila and four children. His death was first reported on his official Twitter account in a post by his long-time manager Bill Rogin that read, “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. He will be greatly missed by all of us. Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed.
On a personal level, some friends and I met R. Lee Ermey at a MonsterMania convention in New Jersey about a decade ago. Despite his hard as nails persona, he was a consummate gentleman and professional. He signed my DVD box of Full Metal Jacket, writing “Maggot, Semper Fi” along with his signature.
RIP R. Lee Ermey
March 24, 1944 – April 15, 2018