R. Lee Ermey, Golden Globe Nominee for ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ Dies at 74
The news was announced via his official Twitter account by his longtime manager.
R. Lee Ermey, a Golden Globe-nominated actor best known for his role as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, has died.
Ermey, whose nickname was “The Gunny,” died Sunday morning from complications of pneumonia. He was 74.
The news was announced via his official twitter account by his longtime manager, Bill Rogin, who wrote: “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 not only played a member of the military in the movies, but he also was one in real life, having been a U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant and an honorary gunnery sergeant. He also served as a drill instructor for the Marines. Ermey also served 14 months in Vietnam and completed two tours in Okinawa, Japan.
Both March 24, 1944, in Emporia, Kan., Ermey’s family moved to Toppenish, Wash., when he was 14. There, he became a “troublemaker and a bit of a hell-raiser,” he told the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s online magazine in September 2010, and he found himself in court multiple times.
“Basically, a silver-haired judge, a kindly old judge, looked down at me and said, ‘This is the second time I’ve seen you up here and it looks like we’re going to have to do something about this,” he told CMP. “He gave me a choice. He said I could either go into the military — any branch I wanted to go to — or he was going to send me where the sun never shines. And I love sunshine, I don’t know about you.”
After retiring from the military with 11 years of service under his belt, Ermey took some acting classes and was cast in one of his first roles, playing a helicopter pilot in 1979’s Apocalypse Now, and also serving as a technical adviser to director Francis Ford Coppola on the film. Another role he landed around that same time also hit close to home, playing a Marine drill instructor in Sidney Furie’s The Boys in Company C.
But it was his role role in Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket that brought him household recognition and critical acclaim; in addition to his Golden Globe nom, he also earned a best supporting actor award from the Boston Society of Film Critics. He’s probably best remembered for the numerous memorable lines he delivered as the no-nonsense sergeant: including: “What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn’t mommy and daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?” and “I want that head so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump.”
The story goes that Ermey was originally hired to advise and train the actor who would play the role, but Kubrick was so impressed by what he saw, he offered Ermey the role.
He played a similar character in The Frighteners, which was directed by Peter Jackson and starred Michael J. Fox.
But he has said he’s not really like those characters. “I’m basically a nice person,” he told the Spokesman Review in 2010.
Other films credits include Mississippi Burning, Prefontaine, the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fletch Lives and Se7en. He also had a healthy voice-over career, playing the lead of the green plastic Army solders in the Toy Story films along with a role in SpongeBob SquarePants, among others, along with voice roles in multiple video games.
Ermy got a chance to showcase his comedy chops in 2001’s Saving Silverman, which he starred in alongside Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and Amanda Peet.
Ermey also was one of the rare conservatives in more liberal Hollywood. In 2010, he did a commercial for Geico but later said he was fired from that gig after bashing then-President Obama at a Toys 4 Tots benefit. At the time, he said that Obama’s administration was “destroying the country” and “driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us.” He apologized, but two years later, he told TMZ he was fired by Geico over those remarks: “If you’re a conservative in this town, you better watch out.”
As he told the Spokesman Review in his 2010 interview: “I don’t have anything in common with Hollyweird.”
More recently, Ermey hosted Outdoor Channel’s GunnyTime With R. Lee Ermey.