R. Lee Ermey Dies At 74: Veteran Actor Played Gunnery Sgt. Hartman In ‘Full Metal Jacket’

Ermey was best known for playing tough authority figures in movies, oftentimes relying on his real-life experience in the U.S. Marine Corps.

R. Lee Ermey Dies At 74: Veteran Actor Played Gunnery Sgt. Hartman In 'Full Metal Jacket'
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Ermey was best known for playing tough authority figures in movies, oftentimes relying on his real-life experience in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Actor R. Lee Ermey, who rose to fame in 1985 when he played the nasty, yet quotable Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, died on Sunday morning at the age of 74.

The news was confirmed on Sunday afternoon via Twitter by Ermey’s manager, Bill Rogin, who issued a brief statement that also confirmed his cause of death. According to Rogin, the veteran character actor passed away due to complications from pneumonia, though no further details were mentioned.

Born Ronald Lee Ermey in Emporia, Kansas in 1944, the future Gunnery Sgt. Hartman had a real-life military background, having joined the Marines at the age of 17 after a few instances of “juvenile mischief,” according to The First Shot. He spent the next 11 years in the Marines before getting a medical discharge, then lived in Okinawa, Japan and the Philippines in the 1970s, which was where he was told by friends that filmmakers shooting Vietnam War-inspired movies were looking for veterans who could serve as technical advisors.

As noted by Fox News, R. Lee Ermey worked as a technical advisor in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 blockbuster Apocalypse Now and briefly appeared onscreen as a helicopter pilot. However, it was Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket that turned him into a household name about eight years later, as he was reportedly so convincing in his portrayal of Sgt. Hartman that Kubrick fired the actor who was initially hired to play the role.

For his depiction of a sadistic drill sergeant who had no problem hurling cruel insults at his Marine Corps recruits, Ermey was nominated as Best Supporting Actor in the 1988 Golden Globe Awards. He went on to appear in several other films in the coming years, including Mississippi Burning, Se7en, and the Toy Story series, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

In addition to his traditional portrayals of tough authority figures, R. Lee Ermey was also known as one of Hollywood’s more outspoken conservative actors, the Hollywood Reporter added. This had earned him some controversy in recent years, as the publication noted that he had cut one commercial for Geico in 2010, but was fired soon after for making critical comments about then-President Barack Obama.

While Ermey apologized for accusing the Obama administration of “driving [America] into bankruptcy” and “destroying the country,” he confirmed to TMZ in 2012 that he was indeed fired by Geico for his comments, adding the following remarks about his status as a conservative in a mostly liberal industry.

“If you’re a conservative in this town, you better watch out.”

According to R. Lee Ermey’s IMDB page, the actor’s last live-action film role was in 2012, when he starred alongside Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in The Watch. He remained active as a voice talent in video games and animated series in the following years, with his last credited role being that of “Sarge” in the 2016 video game Disney Magic Kingdom.