‘Full Metal Jacket’ star R. Lee Ermey dies at age 74

April 16, 2018

The tough-talking, husky-voiced Marine-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey, famous for his role as the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket, has died.

Ermey, who racked up more than 60 film and TV credits over his three-decades-long career, succumbed to pneumonia on Sunday. The father of four was 74.

Legendary Marine-actor dies

Ermey’s manager, Bill Rogin, announced Ermey’s passing on the late actor’s Twitter account on Sunday, writing:

With his gunny hat and harsh, barking voice, Ermey, who was born on March 24, 1944 in Emporia, KS, was instantly recognizable in various film and TV roles, but he was most famous for playing Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, a brutal drill instructor whose insult-laden diatribes drove the mentally unstable private Gomer Pyle to fatally shoot him in a murder-suicide in the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket.

“What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn’t mommy and daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?” Ermey’s character famously barked in the movie.

Ermey wasn’t originally slated to play the drill instructor in Jacket — he started out as a technical adviser for the film — but when director Stanley Kubrick saw a demo Ermey made for another actor that showed him shouting insults as tennis balls flew at him, he was impressed enough to give Ermey the role that would define his career — and earn him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Golden Globes.

Ermey went on to voice “Sarge,” the toy soldier from Toy Story, who, according to Pixar, was based on Ermey’s character in Jacket. Ermey also played General Kramer in Toy Soldiers, track-and-field coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman in Prefontaine, and a police captain in the classic thriller, Se7en. His TV credits include Mail Call, a show on military history, and a weaponry show called Lock N Load with R. Lee Ermey.

Prior to his big break, Ermey had played small roles on screen, and served as a military adviser on a number of movies, including Apocalypse Now, where he played a helicopter pilot. Ermey also served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 11 years, and spent 14 months in Vietnam.

A Hollywood conservative

The Marines gave Ermey an honorary post-service promotion to gunnery sergeant in 2002 for his support of the Corps, which included work with the USO and military-related charities. But comments he made at a 2010 Toys for Tots charity event left Ermey, who once described himself as politically independent, “blackballed” from Hollywood: he had criticized then-President Barack Obama, who he actually voted for in 2008.

“We should all rise up, and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing because they’re destroying this country,” Ermey, an NRA member, said at the event. “They’re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, and I’m sick and damn tired of it and I know you are too.”

He later apologized for his comments, but the damage was done. Ermey later told TMZ, “If you’re a conservative in this town, you better watch out.”

Ermey is a perfect example of a talented, patriotic man being ostracized by the liberal elites for his political beliefs. It is a shame that Hollywood didn’t see him for what he was worth — but among conservatives, he and his talents will be greatly missed.


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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.