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Even though he was killed halfway through Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Sgt. Hartman remains one of the most memorable cinematic villains of all time. Intense doesn't even begin to describe his energy, and he was brought to life with a performance only a real-life drill instructor could provide. It was a truly iconic role from R. Lee Ermey, one that would launch a second career for him as a character actor, and today we say goodbye to him, as he has passed away at the age of 74.
The official announcement regarding R. Lee Ermey's passing was officially shared on the actor's official Twitter account, written by his long-time manager, Bill Rogin. According to Rogin, he was experiencing complications of pneumonia and died this morning. The statement concludes sweetly, reading, "Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed."
Born in Emporia, Kansas, R. Lee Ermey enlisted with the United States Marine Corps, and was first assigned as a drill instructor in 1965. Starting in 1968 he served for 14 months in-country during the Vietnam War, and was medically discharged in 1972. Years later he turned his attention to the movie world, initially only intending to serve as a technical advisor on military films. As the story famously goes, he recorded an instructional video for whoever was going to be cast as Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, and Stanley Kubrick decided that he was perfect for the role.
Full Metal Jacket wasn't R. Lee Ermey's first film (he actually had an uncredited role in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now in 1979, and was in Sidney J. Furie's The Boys in Company C before that) but his phenomenal turn in the movie earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 1988 Golden Globes, and turned him into a notable name. His filmmography is filled with collaborations with brilliant filmmakers, including David Fincher (Se7en), Peter Jackson (The Frighteners), and even the folks at Pixar (Toy Story). He has over 124 credits on his resume - including movies, television, and video games - with his last being a return to his Toy Story character, Sarge, for the game Disney Magic Kingdom in 2016.
I personally never had the chance to interview R. Lee Ermey, but last July I learned a fantastic story about him from his Full Metal Jacket co-stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Matthew Modine - who were participating in a special press day commemorating the movie's 30th anniversary. You can watch them tell the tale below, but know that it involves a story about a deleted scene from the Stanley Kubrick classic involving some insanely bizarre erotic poetry:
R. Lee Ermey will be missed, and forever remembered for his contributions to the artform.