'Cool Hand Luke,' 'Naked Gun' actor George Kennedy dies at 91

LOS ANGELES -- George Kennedy, the hulking, tough-guy character actor who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a savage chain-gang convict in the 1960s classic "Cool Hand Luke," has died.

See Full Article

His grandson Cory Schenkel says Kennedy died on Sunday morning of old age in Boise, Idaho. He was 91.

He had undergone emergency triple bypass surgery in 2002. That same year, he and his late wife moved to Idaho to be closer to their daughter and her family, though he still was involved in occasional film projects.

His biggest acting achievement came in "Cool Hand Luke," a 1967 film about a rebellious war hero played by Paul Newman who is bent on bucking the system as a prisoner on a Southern chain gang. Its theme of rebelling against authority and the establishment helped make it one of the most important films of the tumultuous 1960s.

Kennedy played the role of Dragline, the chain-gang boss who goes from Luke's No. 1 nemesis to his biggest disciple as Newman's character takes on folk hero status among fellow inmates. The movie garnered four Academy Award nominations, and Kennedy was named best supporting actor.

Newman and Kennedy provided a spectacular one-two punch -- Luke as the reticent anti-hero, Dragline as an illiterate brute. They shared several memorable scenes, including one in which Kennedy's character wins a bet by getting Luke to eat 50 eggs in an hour.

After the critical and commercial success of "Cool Hand Luke," Kennedy carved out a niche as one of Hollywood's most recognizable supporting actors. He had parts in several action flicks in the 1970s, played Leslie Nielsen's sidekick in the "Naked Gun" spoofs and was J.R. Ewing's business rival in the final seasons of "Dallas."

One of his strongest supporting roles was in the hit 1970 film "Airport," which spurred the run of 1970s disaster pictures. Kennedy played Joe Patroni, a no-nonsense, cigar-chomping troubleshooter who stubbornly guides a jetliner stuck on a snow-clogged runway out of harm's way.

The film spawned several sequels (Kennedy was in all of them) and landed Kennedy a Golden Globe nomination.

Kennedy said his acting ambitions were cemented when he was a young child.

"I remember listening to a radio program when I was young and it made me feel good and I remember telling my mom that I wanted to make people feel the way this radio program made me feel," Kennedy said in 1995.

"I got some great breaks, and I wound up being an actor."

His film career began to take flight in the early 1960s. He starred in 1963's "Charade," a whodunit that features Kennedy, Cary Grant, James Coburn and Walter Matthau seeking out the $250,000 they suspect was left behind by Audrey Hepburn's dead husband. His other acting credits in the 1960s included "The Dirty Dozen" and "Guns of the Magnificent Seven."

Kennedy once called "Charade" the favourite movie in which he appeared.

"It had Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, music by Henry Mancini; it was shot entirely in Paris," he said in 1995. "I have nothing but wonderful memories."

Kennedy became regular face in action movies in the 1970s after the success of "Airport," including "Earthquake" and "Death on the Nile." He made several film and television appearances in the early and mid-1980s, but few were successful.

He turned to comedic roles in the 1980s and 1990s, the most memorable being the three "Naked Gun" films.

Among his later credits was a small role in Wim Wenders' 2005 film, "Don't Come Knocking." Kennedy's last on-screen role was in the 2014 remake of "The Gambler," which starred Mark Wahlberg.

Kennedy was born in New York in 1925. He started acting at the age of 2 when he joined a touring company production of "Bringing up Father." Five years later, he became a disc jockey with a kids radio show.

He enlisted in the Army at 17 and served in World War II, opening the first Army Information Office that provided technical assistance to films and TV shows. Kennedy spent 16 years in the Army and left as a captain.

After his Army stint, Kennedy made his television debut in "The Phil Silvers Show" in 1955 and had a variety of guest appearances in the Westerns "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Cheyenne" and "Gunsmoke."

Kennedy, an avid reader, also dabbled in writing and published a couple of murder mysteries.

Schenkel remembered sitting in on an autograph session in London with his grandfather.

"I sat behind him for hours that day watching the hundreds of fans in line waiting to meet my grandpa," Schenkel recalled. "At the end of the day we sat in our hotel room eating room service and he said to me, 'Seeing all those people I was able to bring a little enjoyment and happiness into their life -- That is why I did it."'

In later years, Kennedy became an advocate for adopted children. He had four adopted children, including his granddaughter Taylor, whose mother, also adopted by Kennedy, had become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

"Don't let the fact that you're 77 or 70 get in your way. Don't let the fact that you're a single parent and you want to adopt get in your way," Kennedy said in a Fox interview in 2002. "That kid, some place right now, cold and wet, needs somebody to say, "I love you, kid, good night.'"

------

Associated Press writer Josh Hoffner contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Kim Kardashian doubts her mom will ever talk to Caitlyn Jenner again

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Kim Kardashian doubts her mother will ever be on proper speaking terms with her ex Caitlyn Jenner after the former couple fell out over the transgender star’s new memoir. Retired Olympian Caitlyn, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, caused a rift in her family with Kris Jenner following the April release of her autobiography The Secrets Of My Life. Source
  • Stranger than fiction: Where do House of Cards, Veep and other White House shows go in the Trump era?

    Entertainment CBC News
    For years, House of Cards has lured audiences in with its dark portrait of unscrupulous Washington schemers, while Veep's fanbase remains devoted to the outrageous White House satire. But what happens when the reality in Washington becomes as dramatic as fiction? Source
  • Jaden Smith: Hollywood headcase hits Hogtown

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Nutty narcissist Jaden Smith is the reigning poster boy for Hollywood heirs gone to hell. The uber entitled 18-year-old son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith has a long history of being seduced by his own genius. Source
  • Kim Kardashian agreed to marry Kris Humphries because she began to 'freak out' over turning 30

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Kim Kardashian knew her marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries was doomed because she wed for all the wrong reasons. The reality TV star admits she began to “freak out” about being old and lonely after turning 30, so when the sportsman proposed in 2011, after a whirlwind romance, she said “yes”. Source
  • Jerry Seinfeld on Timbits, Netflix, returning to Just for Laughs in Montreal

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    TORONTO — The last time Jerry Seinfeld was at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival was in 1989 and audiences were just getting introduced to his motley crew of TV characters and their droll observations about everyday life in New York. Source
  • Discrimination suits proceed against Fox, minus Roger Ailes

    Entertainment CBC News
    The sudden death of Fox News founder Roger Ailes won't slow the march of litigation swirling around the network, legal observers and lawyers involved in the suits said. Three new lawsuits by people alleging a hostile work environment were filed just days after his death at age 77. Source
  • Standing Rock film festival centres around pipeline protest

    Entertainment CBC News
    A film festival on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation aims to bolster the anti-pipeline movement that blossomed there last year while also fostering connections between the Native American community and the film industry. The inaugural Standing Rock Nation Film and Music Festival, which runs this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the tribal casino near Fort Yates, N.D. Source
  • Standing Rock film festival centres on pipeline protest

    Entertainment CBC News
    A film festival on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation aims to bolster the anti-pipeline movement that blossomed there last year while also fostering connections between the Native American community and the film industry. The inaugural Standing Rock Nation Film and Music Festival, which runs this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the tribal casino near Fort Yates, N.D. Source
  • Brenton Thwaites on working with Johnny Depp and joining the 'Pirates' franchise

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    BEVERLY HILLS — Brenton Thwaites remembers exactly how he felt shooting his very first scene with Johnny Depp in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. “Absolutely terrified.” Thwaites, 27, stars in the new Pirates movie as Henry Turner, seafaring son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Source
  • Sudbury writer Nina Nesseth decodes science behind Orphan Black

    Entertainment CBC News
    You've heard of Fight Club. But do you know about Clone Club? It's what fans of the Canadian science fiction TV series Orphan Black call themselves. Sudbury writer Nina Nesseth has co-authored a book with Los Angeles-based PhD student Casey Griffin to unpack some of the science behind the show, which centers on character Sarah Manning, a young woman who discovers that she is a clone after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her. Source