R. Lee Ermey, the actor best known for his Golden Globe-nominated performance as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, has died. As announced on Twitter by his longtime manager, Bill Rogin, Ermey succumbed to complications of pneumonia on Sunday morning. He was 74 years old.
Ermey, whose nickname was The Gunny, was a Hollywood outsider who made his career out of playing military men. His own experience in the US Marine Corps gave him ample experience to play such roles. He served for 11 years as a Corps staff sergeant and honorary gunnery sergeant, spending 14 months in Vietnam and doing two tours in Okinawa, Japan. He also spent time as a Marines drill instructor.
Following his career in the military, Ermey’s first theatrical role came in 1978 with The Boys in Company C., which he followed up by playing a helicopter pilot in Apocalypse Now. In 1985, he was hired as an advisor for Stanley Kubrick’s classic Full Metal Jacket. He was meant to train the actor set to play Gny. Sgt. Hartman, but Kubrick was so impressed with Ermey’s presence that he gave him the part instead. Ermey’s performance earned him his only Golden Globe nomination.
He would go on to play various types of men of authority in films like Se7en, The Frightners, 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, Mississippi Burning, and even comedies like Saving Silverman. Ermey also had a notable voice acting career, perhaps most recognizable as the voice of Sarge in the Toy Story series. In fact, his gruff and assertive voice became so memorable that he was often hired for “cameo” voiceovers, such as the “gearing up” scenes in Starship Troopers and X-Men: The Last Stand.
In a note on Facebook, Rogin commented on Ermey’s legacy, especially in regards to his support of the military:
“He will be greatly missed by all of us. It is a terrible loss that nobody was prepared for. He has meant so much to so many people. And, it is extremely difficult to truly quantify all of the great things this man has selflessly done for, and on behalf of, our many men and women in uniform. He has also contributed many iconic and indelible characters on film that will live on forever. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman of Full Metal Jacket fame was a hard and principled man. The real R. Lee Ermey was a family man, and a kind and gentle soul. He was generous to everyone around him. And, he especially cared deeply for others in need.
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.
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.”
Read Rogin’s full statement below, followed by a few of Ermey’s iconic scenes.