It is Cult Faction’s sad duty to report that movie legend George Kennedy passed away on February 28th 2016, following a battle with lung cancer.
Kennedy was born on February 18th 1925 in New York City, into a family of entertainers headed by his father George Harris Kennedy who was a musician and orchestra leader. Sadly his father passed away when he was four years old. He was raised by his mother, Helen A. (née Kieselbach) who was a ballet dancer.
Kennedy made his stage debut at age two in a touring company of Bringing Up Father, and by seven was a New York City radio DJ.
During World War II, Kennedy signed up to the U.S. military where he spent 16 years until the late 1950’s, when a back injury prompted him to find other work. He had reached a rank of captain. This career led to his first notable screen role was a military advisor on the TV sitcom The Phil Silvers Show, where he served as a technical adviser, a role which Kennedy later described as “a great training ground.”
“Of course, I also attribute some of my hearing loss to being in the infantry in World War II. It’s probably a combination of heredity and noise exposure.”
In 1960 Kennedy popped up briefly in Spartacus, then The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. He then appeared in several Hollywood movies, including Charade (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and In Harm’s Way (1965).
[on being cast in bad guy roles on Western TV shows at the start of his acting career] The big guys were on TV and they needed big lumps to eat up. All I had to do was show up on the set, and I got beaten up.
Kennedy also began popping up on the small screen with appearances on The Asphalt Jungle, The Andy Griffith Show, Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, Bonanza, Maverick, McHale’s Navy, Gunsmoke and Route 66.
“I had the good fortune of speaking with Orson Welles many decades ago and he said ‘Success is primarily luck anyway.’ And I have been very lucky. Of course, Orson Welles was enormously talented and brilliant – so who am I to argue with him!”
Kennedy gained praised for his role as George Spangler in the 1963 Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Greek Goddess.” He portrayed the character Blodgett in a 1966 episode “Return to Lawrence” in The Legend of Jesse James.
Then came the role of Dragline – for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. His on screen time as the chain-gang convict who at first resents the new prisoner in camp, Luke (Paul Newman), then comes to idolize his rebellious ways.
[on his role as Dragline in Cool Hand Luke (1967)] The marvelous thing about that movie was that as my part progresses, I changed from a bad guy to a good guy. The moguls in Hollywood must have said, “Hey, this fellow can do something besides be a bad guy.”
Kennedy followed this role up with massive hit films such as The Dirty Dozen, Bandolero! and The Boston Strangler. In 1970, he appeared in the Academy Award-winning disaster film Airport, in which he played one of its main characters, airline troubleshooter Joe Patroni. He reprised this role in Airport 1975, Airport ’77 and The Concorde … Airport ’79.
The Airport franchise helped inspire the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker satire Airplane!, in which the filmmakers hoped to cast Mr. Kennedy as the bumbling plane dispatcher. The role went to Lloyd Bridges, because Mr. Kennedy “couldn’t kill off his Airport cash-cow,” Jerry Zucker said in 2010.
Kennedy co-starred with Clint Eastwood in a pair of films, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Eiger Sanction, and with ensemble casts in the disaster film Earthquake and the Agatha Christie mystery Death on the Nile.
In 1984, Kennedy starred opposite Bo Derek in the box-office bomb Bolero. He made other minor films including Savage Dawn, The Delta Force, and Creepshow 2 before playing a role in the comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! in 1988, playing Captain Ed Hocken opposite Leslie Nielsen’s comical cop Frank Drebin. There were two sequels in which Kennedy co-starred.
On television, Kennedy starred as Carter McKay from 1988-1991 in Dallas. Later he reprised his role in the Dallas television films Dallas: J.R. Returns and Dallas: War of the Ewings.
In 1998, he voiced Brick Bazooka for the film Small Soldiers. He then made several independent films before making a 2003 comeback to television on The Young and the Restless.
In 2005, he made a cameo appearance in the film Don’t Come Knocking, playing the director of an ill-fated western.
Kennedy’s final film appearance was in 2014’s The Gambler, in which he portrayed Ed, the dying grandfather of Marky-Mark Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett.
“I have been so fortunate and I really am appreciative of the success I’ve had.”