R. Lee Ermey
R. Lee Ermey. Photo: @RLeeErmey/Twitter

Actor R. Lee Ermey, who at 17 went through recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego before becoming a drill instructor there, then later used his military experience to portray the iconic Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, died Sunday.

He was 74.

A statement Sunday from Ermey’s long-time manager Bill Rogin read, “It is with deep sadness that I regret to inform you all that R. Lee Ermey (‘The Gunny’) passed away this morning from complications of pneumonia. He will be greatly missed by all of us. Semper Fi, Gunny. Godspeed.”

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “Today we lost a legend. I am proud to have had R. Lee Ermey as a friend & teammate. If you thought he was motivating in Full Metal Jacket you should have seen him on the firing line when points mattered. Legendary!!! RIP my friend. #RIPGunny #rip #gunny #SemperFi”

It was Ermey’s military experience and persona that landed him dozens of authority-figure roles over a nearly 40-year film and television acting career.

His performances included a First Air Cavalry chopper pilot in director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 block buster film Apocalypse Now, a Marine drill instructor in The Boys In Company CMayor Tilman in the Mississippi Burning, Bill Bowerman in Prefontaine, Sheriff Hoyt in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Jimmy Lee Farnsworth in Fletch Lives, a police captain in Se7en, plastic army men leader Sarge in the Toy Story films, Lt. “Tice” Ryan in Rocket Power, the warden in SpongeBob SquarePants, and John House in House.

But it was his role as drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) that earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

One of six boys, he was born Ronald Lee Ermey in Emporia, Kansas, on March 24, 1944. When he was 14, his family left their Kansas farm and moved to Zillah, Washington.

In 1961, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and went through training at MCRD San Diego. He later became a drill instructor in India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, MCRD San Diego, where he was assigned from 1965 to 1967.

Ermey served in Marine Wing Support Group 17 at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan, and in 1968, he was ordered to Vietnam where he spent 14 months.

He finished his military career in Okinawa as a staff sergeant and was medically discharged in 1972 due to injuries sustained during his service.

On May 17, 2002, he received an honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James L. Jones. He also received other awards for his military service.

Ermey is survived by his wife Nila of more than 40 years. Together they had four children.

–Toni McAllister

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