R. Lee Ermey, the real-life military veteran who turned maggots into Marines in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” died Sunday morning from complications from pneumonia, according to a statement from his longtime manager posted to the actor’s official Twitter account. He was 74.
Ermey carved his place into cinema history with his memorable portrayal of foul-mouthed Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War drama, and he would go on to play tough-as-nails authority figures from coaches to colonels to sheriffs and generals over a nearly four-decade career in film and television.
But his most recognizable turn by far remained the drill instructor hammering new U.S. Marine Corps recruits Joker (Matthew Modine) and Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) into battle-ready soldiers in “Full Metal Jacket,” a role punctuated by indelible and highly profane quotes that earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor.
“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. Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed,” manager Bill Rogin wrote Sunday afternoon.
Born Ronald Lee Ermey in Kansas in 1944, Ermey enlisted at the age of 17 and spent 11 years in the Marine Corps, receiving a post-retirement honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant in 2002. According to his official website, Ermey spent two years whipping new recruits into shape as a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego before being deployed in 1968 to Vietnam, where he spent 14 months, and serving two tours in Okinawa.
His service experience helped inform his onscreen work in “Full Metal Jacket,” remembered as a rare instance in which Kubrick entertained improvisation on his sets.
As cinema lore goes, Ermey pursued and won the role after initially coming on as technical advisEr, a role he played on Sidney J. Furie’s “The Boys in Company C,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Taylor Hackford’s “An Officer and a Gentleman,” the film that nabbed Louis Gossett Jr. the Academy Award for his supporting turn as a tough drill instructor.
Ermey went on to supporting turns in films including “Mississippi Burning,” “Fletch Lives,” “Toy Soldiers,” “On Deadly Ground,” “Se7en,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Man of the House,” 2003’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake and “The Watch.”
Fans will also remember him voicing the Army leader Sarge in the “Toy Story” movies, playing Brisco County Sr. on “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,” and hosting “GunnyTime with R. Lee Ermey,” a weapons-focused docuseries that aired for three seasons on the Outdoor Channel through last fall.
He had a sense of humor about himself, particularly in 2010 when false reports of his demise circulated online.
“It’s going to take a lot more than some internet rumor to kill this old Marine,” Ermey said in a statement that summer while in Washington in support of a bill to rename the Department of the Navy to include the Marine Corps. “I can state unequivocally that I am still alive.”