R. Lee Ermey, who famously played Sergeant 'Gunny' in 'Full Metal Jacket', dies at 74

R. Lee Ermey, who famously played Sergeant 'Gunny' in 'Full Metal Jacket', dies at 74

R. Lee Ermey, the gunnery sergeant turned actor who portrayed the scene-stealing drill instructor in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, died on Sunday.

Iconic actor R. Lee Ermey, better known to the world as the sadistic Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket', died in the early hours of Sunday at age 74, according to his longtime manager, Bill Rogin, reported Fox News. Ermey was a former Marine Corps drill instructor who then turned into an actor. 

Rogin posted a statement on his Twitter about his death, citing reasons of his death related to complications from pneumonia.

Ermey enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 17 in 1961. The Kansas native served the country for 11 years, which also included 14 months in Vietnam before he was discharged in the year 1972. He then helped famed director Francis Ford Coppola with his 1979 Vietnam War epic, 'Apocalypse Now', as a technical adviser. He had a cameo of a helicopter pilot in the Brando-starrer classic.

But what shot him to fame came only eight years later, in Stanley Kubrick's own version of the Vietnam war. What first saw him in the shoes of a technical adviser yet again, turned into a full-fledged role after Kubrick saw a demo tape of his, railing at extras while tennis balls flew at him, and offered him the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.

In the movie, Ermey famously insulted his unfortunate charges in his role as a drill instructor breaking in new Marines at a boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina.

"Here you are all equally worthless," Ermey/Hartman says by way of introduction. "And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. Do you maggots understand that?" 

Ermey's main target in the war story was the unfortunate, overweight Private Pyle, played by Vincent D'Onofrio. 

"Were you born a fat, slimy, scumbag puke piece of s---," Private Pyle, or did you have to work on it?" the gunnery sergeant asks in one scene.

However, Hartman is helpless when Private Pyle, whom he turns into a killing machine, guns him down the night after graduation from the boot camp when Hartman asks: "What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?"

Kubrick was all praises for Ermey's acting skills, when he told Rolling Stone in 1987, "If I did a hundred takes on every scene, I'd never finish a film. Lee Ermey, for instance, would spend every spare second with the dialogue coach, and he always knew his lines. I suppose Lee averaged eight or nine takes. He sometimes did it in three. Because he was prepared."

"My main objective was basically to just play the drill instructor the way the drill instructor was and let the chips fall where they may," Ermey said in a History Channel interview regarding his character. "You can ask any drill instructor who was down there in 1965 or 1966, that's exactly how the drill instructor's demeanor was. There were no punches pulled."

According to Kubrick, more than half of the drill sergeant's dialogue in the film was written by Ermey himself, reports the Rolling Stone.

"In the course of hiring the marine recruits, we interviewed hundreds of guys. We lined them all up and did an improvisation of the first meeting with the drill instructor. They didn't know what he was going to say, and we could see how they reacted. Lee came up with, I don't know, 150 pages of insults," Kubrick said.

"Kubrick would punch the button on his tape recording, and I would go on and on and on until I ran out of gas … Then we would select the juiciest lines," Ermey said.

Matthew Modine, co-star of D'Onofrio and 'Private Pyle' himself tweeted their condolences later in the day. Modine quoted poet Dylan Thomas while paying his respects.

Ermey won a Golden Globe nomination for his role in 'Full Metal Jacket'. His pivotal role in the movie earned him a career playing authority figures, right from Mayor Tilman in 1988's 'Mississippi Burning' to 'Sarge', the little green army man in the legendary 'Toy Story'.

In his acting career, Ermey secured more than 60 credits both in film and television. His body of work includes appearances in 'Se7en', 'Prefontaine', and 'Toy Soldiers'. He also took a shot at hosting multiple TV shows on the History Channel with 'Lock N' Load with R. Lee Ermey' and the popular series 'Mail Call'.

During a conversation with Fox News back in 2016, Ermey, who is also an outspoken conservative, claimed that he was "blackballed" from Hollywood over his political stance.

"I've had a very fruitful career. I've done over 70 feature films," he said. "I've done over 200 episodes of [Outdoor Channel series 'GunnyTime']... and then [Hollywood] found out that I'm a conservative."

Ermey (Facebook)
Ermey in Outdoor Channel's Gunny Time (Facebook)

Actually, he corrected, "I'm an Independent, but I said something bad about the president. I had something unsavory to say about the president's administration, and even though I did vote for him the first time around, I was blackballed."

Ermey had voiced his disapproval of President Obama at the time. Coupled with that, he was a board member of the National Rifle Association as well as a spokesman for Glock. He claimed that his association with the organization and his views about Obama cost him roles in Hollywood.

"Do you realize I have not done a movie in five to six years? Why? Because I was totally blackballed by the ... liberals in Hollywood," he alleged. "They can destroy you. They're hateful people [who] don't just not like you, they want to take away your livelihood ... that's why I live up in the desert on a dirt road ... I don't have to put up with their crap."

"He will be greatly missed by all of us," Rogin told The Associated Press Sunday. "It is a terrible loss that nobody was prepared for."

Manager Rogin said that while the roles he played were mostly hard and principled, the real-life Sergeant was a family man and kind and gentle soul who staunchly supported men and women who serve the nation.

"There is a quote made famous in Full Metal Jacket. It's actually the Riflemen's Creed. 'This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine,'" Rogin continued. "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."

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