When R. Lee Ermey, the former Marine drill instructor turned actor, passed away Sunday at the age of 74, he left behind a legion of fans unusual for a character actor.
Then again, Ermey was far from a character actor.
His star-making role was in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War epic “Full Metal Jacket” back in 1987. As Gunnery Sgt. Hartman — known to the troops as “Gunny” — Ermey cemented his reputation as one of the most intense authority figures in film. And yet, the drill instructor facade was not without a certain degree of warmth underneath.
That described the character he would play, albeit with some range, throughout his career — in film, on television, in video games and even on cartoons. Yes, Gunny voiced some cartoons, including (I know, this shocked me, too) “Spongebob Squarepants.”
He was also a contributor to Fox News, too — who remembered him in the most epic, tear-jerking way possible:
I’m not crying, you are.
Ermey served in the Marine Corps between 1961 and 1972, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He was given an honorable discharge because of injuries he had suffered during his time in the Corps.
He would later be promoted to Gunnery Sergeant in 2002, making him the first retired Marine to ever receive a promotion.
Ermey’s first role, albeit a relatively minor one, came in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” While Ermey was using his G.I. Bill benefits to study at the University of Manila, he discovered the infamously troubled production was shooting in the area and managed to get himself a small part.
It was mostly small parts that Ermey contented himself with in the intervening years. Then, he got his big break when he was hired as a technical advisor on Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”
Kubrick was so impressed with the tape of Ermey playing a drill sergeant to show how it was done that he decided to give him the part of Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann.
The rest, as they say, is history. He starred in everything — even as a psychiatrist in a GEICO commercial. (He was later terminated by the company after making controversial remarks about President Obama, who he had voted for in 2008 but quickly became disillusioned with.)
Gunny was also, somewhat predictably, a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights, something that also rankled the left.
Ermey is gone at 74, the victim of pneumonia. One of the world’s most intense men, felled by a disease you got the feeling he could beat up. Given how strong his lungs were, however, you can bet he didn’t go without a fight.
Rest in peace, Gunny. We will miss you.
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