Full Metal Jacket actor R. Lee Ermey has died

Ben Arnold
Contributor

R. Lee Ermey, the fearsome drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, has died at the age of 74.

His long-time manager Bill Rogin confirmed that he died on Sunday morning, following complications from pneumonia in hospital in Santa Monica, California.

Posting to his Twitter account, he said: “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.”


Ermey was best known for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s brutal war movie, playing Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, who gives Marine Corps recruits for Vietnam a profane baptism of fire.

The part earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

As a former Marine Corps drill sergeant himself, he said that he modelled his performance from his own experiences at boot camp.

“It was terrifying to those actors,” he once told the New York Times. “My objective was intimidation.”

(Credit: Randy Davey/AP)

After serving in Japan and Vietnam, he was medically discharged from the Marine Corps in 1972, and landed his first movie role as a helicopter pilot in Apocalypse Now, released in 1979.

He also acted as a military consultant to director Francis Ford Coppola on the movie, a role he was only originally hired for by Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket.

However, Kubrick gave him the part of the drill sergeant after seeing an instructional tape he’d put together, in which he lambasted a host of movie extras.

Kubrick also allowed him to improvise his own dialogue, a rarity for the notoriously autocratic director.

Ermey then went on to a number of memorable film roles, including Mississippi Burning, David Fincher’s Se7en, Leaving Las Vegas, and Dead Man Walking, also voicing toy soldier Sarge in the Toy Story movies.

On the small screen, he played John House, father of Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House in the medical drama House, and also fronted a number of shows for the History Channel, including Mail Call, in which he used his military expertise to answer viewers questions, and Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey, in which he explored military weaponry.

He is survived by his wife of 43 years Nila and their four children.

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