Lee Ermey, 1944-2018

Lee Ermey, the veteran character actor and former Marine best known for portraying the world’s scariest drill instructor in Stanley Kubrick’s famed 1987 Vietnam War film “Full Metal Jacket,” died April 15 in Santa Monica, California. Ermey, who enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school and served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War during which he was severely wounded, died of complications from pneumonia. He was 74 years old.

Ermey got his start in the movies while he was living in the Philippines in the 1970s as a military technical adviser for Francis Ford Coppola’s bombastic Vietnam War film “Apocalypse Now.” He also had a small role in the film as a helicopter pilot.

Ermey’s big break came when Kubrick summoned him to London in the early 1980s to do the military technical advising on what would become “Full Metal Jacket.” Kubrick had hired another actor to be the D.I. in the film. But after the famed director saw Ermey drilling the actor/troops, he fired the other guy and gave Ermey the D.I. role.

Then Kubrick had one-time Marine drill instructor write nearly all the D.I.’s now-famous bombastic and profanity-filled dialogue, Ermey told Marc Leepson, The VVA Veteran‘s arts editor in a 1987 interview for the magazine.

Vietnam Veterans of America honored Lee Ermey with our Excellence in the Arts Award at the 1993 National Convention.


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