R. Lee Ermey, legendary Marine and one of the most memorable actors from the movie “Full Metal Jacket” and the History Channel series “Mail Call,” died Sunday.
“Gunny,” 74-years-old, passed away from complications of pneumonia, Bill Rogin, Ermey’s long-time manager, said in a statement on Twitter.
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.
In a statement to Marine Corps Times, Rogin added that nobody was prepared for the “terrible loss” of Ermey.
Ermey is best known for his iconic role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” If you haven’t seen it, go mentally haze yourself right now, maggot. He would go on to star in several television shows and films, and inspire Marines everywhere. The role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman earned Ermey a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor, and led to dozens more on-screen appearances and several off-screen ones, where he provided voices for characters in the “Toy Story” franchise, “The Simpsons” and many more.
Ermey, a former Marine Corps drill instructor, served from 1961 to 1972. He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant after spending 14 months in Vietnam and doing two tours in Okinawa. He was medically retired for the injuries he received during his service. But it was in 2002, that Marine Corps Commandant James L. Jones promoted Ermey to Gunnery Sergeant, the rank he became so well-known for, for his life-long dedication to supporting Marines and our beloved Corps through various charity and veteran’s organizations, and the USO. It was the first and only time the Marine Corps has promoted a retired Marine.
When Ermey was medically retired from the Marine Corps, he had never planned for a life as a schnook (civilian). He told Entertainment Weekly in a 1997 interview that he “bought a run-down bar and whorehouse” in Okinawa. He had to leave the business behind when the Japanese FBI caught wind of his black market activities ran out of the bar/brothel. He escaped to the Philippines, where he met his wife.
It was while in the Philippines that Ermey received his first Hollywood role, when he was cast in “Apocalypse Now” by Francis Ford Coppola himself. Ermey was studying drama and did a number of minor Filipino films before Coppola discovered him. You can see him in yet another legendary war scene, playing the part of an Army helicopter pilot during the scene depicting an air assault on a Vietnamese village.
As a young Lance Corporal, I had the distinct honor and privilege of having Ermey as the guest of honor at my Marine Corps ball. He spent much of the evening with a drink in each hand, telling what Marines call “sea stories,” and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. For what he brought to the silver screen, he was twice that and more in person. He was the very definition of “Oorah!”
Semper Fi, Gunny.