Nila Ermey grew up in the Philippines about as far from Hollywood as possible, but she would end up spending her life near the bright lights of show business after meeting a fugitive whorehouse owner named R. Lee Ermey.
The beloved actor passed away this weekend after a battle with pneumonia, throwing a spotlight on his long career and the winding path he took to becoming a movie star. A major part of that story was Nila, the woman married to R. Lee Ermey for the last 33 years, and who saw a much softer side than the gruff and commanding figure he played onscreen.
As Entertainment Weekly noted in a 1997 story, R. Lee Ermey’s path to show business started in Vietnam, where he served in the Marine Corps until he received a medical retirement. As Ermey explained, he was restless and decided to buy a “run-down bar and whorehouse” in Okinawa, where he welcomed American GIs.
Ermey explained that he was doing some “black marketing” and attracted the attention of local authorities, so he escaped the heat and high-tailed it to the Philippines.
It was there that he met Nila, the woman who would become his wife, and at the same time, discover his life’s calling. Ermey appeared in a number of Filipino films before catching the eye of director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him in Apocalypse Now. Ermey would go on to have a long and distinguished acting career, rarely deviating from the role as a hard-nosed military figure.
Nila Ermey was a fixture throughout his career. Those who knew the actor said he was a loving and devoted family man, caring deeply for his wife and their four children. His longtime manager, Bill Rogin, announced Ermey’s death on the actor’s Facebook page and said that Ermey was a “family man, a kind and gentle soul.”
While she was an important part of his life, Nila Ermey tended to stay away from the spotlight during his career, though he did sometimes make reference to her. As fans of his show Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey will remember, he would sometimes mention his wife during episodes, referring to her as “Mrs. Gunny.”