Golden Globe nominee R. Lee Ermey passed away on Sunday morning, according to a post on his official Twitter account from his longtime manager Bill Rogin. Ermey was best known for his acclaimed performance as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam war drama Full Metal Jacket. Rogin said in the tweet below, “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 was 74 years old.
Rogin also posted a statement on Ermey’s Facebook page, writing:
He will be greatly missed by all of us. It is a terrible loss that nobody was prepared for. He has meant so much to so many people. And, it is extremely difficult to truly quantify all of the great things this man has selflessly done for, and on behalf of, our many men and women in uniform. He has also contributed many iconic and indelible characters on film that will live on forever. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman of Full Metal Jacket fame was a hard and principled man. The real R. Lee Ermey was a family man, and a kind and gentle soul. He was generous to everyone around him. And, he especially cared deeply for others in need.
Rogin continued by adding, “There are many Gunny’s, but this one was OURS. And, we will honor his memory with hope and kindness. Please support your men and women in uniform. That’s what he wanted most of all.”
Ermey was born in Emporia, Kansas in 1944 and at 14, he moved to Washington state with his family. He told the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s online magazine (via THR) in 2010 that he was a “troublemaker and a bit of a hell-raiser.” He explained how he ended up in court many times, telling CMP: “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 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.”
Ermey made quite a career out of playing hard, tough and sometimes foul-mouthed military characters, playing such roles in Apocalypse Now, The Boys in Company C, The Frighteners, Purple Hearts and, of course, Full Metal Jacket. Ermey served in the United States military for 11 years as both a Marine Corps staff sergeant and an honorary gunnery sergeant. He was a drill instructor for the Marines, serving 14 months in Vietnam and completing two tours in Okinawa, Japan.
Ermey’s presence was a powerful one onscreen, so besides playing military characters, he also had roles in Mississippi Burning, Se7en, Saving Silverman, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dead Man Walking. He lent his booming voice to Pixar’s Toy Story franchise as the head of the Army plastic soldiers, as well as Spongebob Squarepants, Kim Possible and more, including some videogames like Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex and Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Ermey said that he was not like all the characters he usually played, telling Spokesman Review in 2010, “I’m basically a nice person.”
We recently highlighted Full Metal Jacket on our list of the greatest war movies of all time, with Andy Crump writing, “There’s no denying just how indelible [the film’s] pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant.” You can watch one of Ermey’s most iconic scenes in his Golden Globe-nominated performance from Full Metal Jacket below, and find tributes from a pair of his Full Metal Jacket co-stars further down.