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Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant R Lee Ermey dies aged 74

  • 16 April 2018

R. Lee Ermey arrives to A&E Television Networks Upfront celebration held at Rockefeller Center April 21, 2005Image copyright Getty Images

Actor R Lee Ermey, known for his role as foul-mouthed Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket, has died aged 74.

The former US Marine Corps soldier turned award-winning actor played a host of military men during his career.

Ermey’s manager, posting to the actor’s Twitter account, said he died from “complications of pneumonia”.

“He will be greatly missed by all of us,” the message read. “Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed.”

Born in 1944 in Kansas, Ermey was a staff sergeant in the marine corps in the 1960s and early 1970s, serving tours in Japan and Vietnam. He also served as a real-life drill sergeant.

Ermey later drew on his military experience for his breakout role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, winning a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of a hardened drill instructor putting young Marine Corps recruits through basic training.

One popular story about Ermey is that he was initially hired as a technical advisor, but Kubrick was so impressed with his demonstration of a drill sergeant’s role that he was offered the part.

‘Hell-raiser’

In a 2010 interview with the Civilian Marksmanship Programme magazine, Ermey recalled being a “troublemaker and a bit of a hell-raiser” in his youth – eventually ending up in court.

“Basically a silver-haired judge… gave me a choice. He said I could either go into the military – any branch I wanted to go to – or he was going to send me where the sun never shines,” he told the magazine.

“And I love sunshine, I don’t know about you.”

Ermey also lent his distinctive voice to animated characters, such as the plastic toy soldier in Pixar’s Toy Story films, and played many military and police roles on television.

He was a board member of powerful US gun lobby group the National Rifle Association.

In a post on Facebook – since made inaccessible – his manager Bill Rogin said: “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.

“Gunnery Sergeant Hartman of Full Metal Jacket fame was a hard and principled man,” he wrote. “The real R Lee Ermey was a family man, and a kind and gentle soul.”

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