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R.I.P. R. Lee Ermey, Hollywood’s Go-To Military Tough Guy

R.I.P. R. Lee Ermey, Hollywood’s Go-To Military Tough Guy

In his star-making turn as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey famously yells at his men, on Christmas Day, “God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see! He plays His games, we play ours! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls!” Today, his own fresh soul ships out of country for missions beyond, leaving behind a career as the quintessential hardass of modern pop culture.

A Vietnam veteran medically discharged in 1972, Ermey initially entered the movie business as a technical consultant and an extra, until Stanley Kubrick liked his drill instructor patter so much he bumped him up to co-lead status in Full Metal Jacket. The results are unforgettable and insanely quotable, due to Kubrick temporarily bending his hard and fast rules about letting actors improvise. From there, he got roles in the likes of Miami Vice, Mississippi Burning, and China Beach playing similar characters, but he also showed a sly ability to make fun of him himself by playing comedic spins on his established persona, like when he played Bruce Campbell‘s dad (eat your heart out, Lee Majors!) on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Ermey is literally the last person in the world anybody would call a nerd–hell, the kids who beat up the nerds in the Revenge of the Nerds movies look like nerds next to him–but he’s been in so many of our beloved properties that you know him well even if you don’t recognize the name. Sarge in Toy Story. Sheriff Hoyt in the Platinum Dunes Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. A worthy replacement for Ernest Borgnine in the Willard remake. Various voices on shows like The Simpsons, Kung Fu Panda, SpongeBob, Family Guy, and Kim Possible. He’s one of a handful of actors so recognizable that he got a talking action figure of himself as himself, presumably when a Full Metal Jacket toy license proved unavailable. In 2002, because of his fame playing a Gunnery Sergeant, he even received an honorable promotion to that rank.

More recently, he appeared as himself on The Outdoor Channel’s reality show Gunny Time. No human adversary could fell him, but today, illness did.

In addition to acting, Ermey was active in charity work and supporting the military. He was occasionally politically outspoken in a manner that rubbed some folks the wrong way, but has given us far more joy over the years than friction.

We stand and salute.

Image: Warner Bros.

 

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