R. Lee Ermey, the tough-talking Marine Corps sergeant turned actor best known for his role as a foul-mouthed Vietnam-era drill instructor in “Full Metal Jacket,” died Sunday from complications of pneumonia. He was 74.
“He will be greatly missed by all of us,” his longtime manager, Bill Rogin, said in a statement. “Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed.”
Ermey, who often played military or police roles in film and television, grew up in Toppenish, Wash., and enlisted in the Marines at just 17 after his second arrest for criminal mischief.
A staff sergeant who also served as a drill instructor, he spent 14 months in Vietnam beginning in 1968 and was given a medical discharge in 1972.
Naomi Watts remembers Heath Ledger on his 39th birthday
While studying at the University of Manila in the Philippines, Ermey was cast in a small role as a chopper pilot in the 1979 Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now,” where he also served as a technical adviser to director Francis Ford Coppola.
Remembering the famous figures we lost in 2018
But Stanley Kubrick was the first to see Ermey’s true on-screen potential. After being hired as a technical adviser for 1987’s “Full Metal Jacket,” Ermey was given the memorable role of crusty, no-nonsense Gunnery Sergeant Hartman after he showed Kubrick he was a natural at yelling at recruits.
“I’d say 50% of Lee’s dialogue, specifically the insult stuff, came from Lee,” Kubrick told Rolling Stone in 1987.
“We lined (the actors) up and did an improvisation of the first meeting with the drill instructor. They didn’t know what he was going to say, and we could see how they reacted. Lee came up with, I don’t know, 150 pages of insults.”
Susan Anspach, ‘Five Easy Pieces’ actress, dead at 75
The role, which earned Ermey a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor, kickstarted a long career that included nearly 60 movies, including “Mississippi Burning,” “Se7en” and “Leaving Las Vegas.”
He was also the voice of the plastic soldiers’ leader in the animated “Toy Story.”
In 2015, Ermey hosted the Outdoor Channel’s “Gunny Time,” a series about military weapons of the past, present and future.
Thirty years after leaving the Marine Corps, Ermey received an honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant for his continued support of the U.S. military.
Vincent D’Onofrio, who played Gomer Pyle in “Full Metal Jacket,” mourned his co-star’s death on Twitter.
“Ermey was the real deal. The knowledge of him passing brings back wonderful memories of our time together,” he wrote.
Sign up for BREAKING NEWS Emails
Thanks for subscribing!
Send a Letter to the Editor