In 1987 Stanley Kubrick’s war film “Full Metal Jacket” premiered in cinemas to critical and audience acclaim. One of the highlights of the movie, set during the Vietnam War, is the character of Marine drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann, portrayed by retired Marine Sergeant R. Lee Ermey. His performance became the standard by which all subsequent “nasty drill sergeant” character archetypes are measured against. It also translated into an acting career for Ermey in film and TV, where he hosted shows on the History Channel. But all things come to an end; and so it was with Ermey, aged 74.
As The New York Times tells it, R. Lee Ermey passed away on Sunday, April 15, due to complications following a bout of pneumonia, at a hospital in Santa Monica, California. His death was reported to the public by his manager Bill Rogin. So ends the colorful career of the drill sergeant-turned celebrity actor, who joined the US Marine Corps and served from 1961 to 1972, serving as drill instructor and later on the ground in Vietnam towards the latter years of the war there. Following his medical discharge, Ermey went to college until being cast in “Apocalypse Now” (1979).
That was the beginning of his career in showbiz, where he either portrayed soldier characters on-camera, or served as technical expert behind the scenes. Originally brought into “Full Metal Jacket” by director Stanley Kubrick as a tech advisor, his “instructional video” of how a drill sergeant would talk to recruits led to Ermey being cast as the film character himself. His role in the movie earned him a Supporting Role nomination in the 1988 Golden Globes. Ermey engaged in an acting career spanning 60 films like “Se7en” and the “Toy Story” films (as the voice of the Army Men sergeant).
In light of his in-film military character roles being lauded as supportive of Americans in service and as befitting an unofficial public ambassador for the USMC, R. Lee Ermey became the first person in the corps to be promoted post-retirement, becoming an Honorary Gunnery Sergeant as ordered by the Marine Corps Commandant at the time. He thus became a “Gunny” in fiction and truth, leading up to his stint as host on “Mail Call” and “Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey”, both for the History Channel. His larger-than-life tough image conceals a gentle and affectionate family man in private.
Ermey is survived by two brothers, his wife Nila, whom he affectionately called “Mrs. Gunny”, their four children, and their grandchildren as well as great-grandchildren.
Photo courtesy of uproxx.com