Die-hard drill instructors, jailbreaking football coaches, and corrupt backwoods sheriffs. It was all just another day of work for former Marine Corp. drill instructor-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey, who died earlier this week. Ermey was an incredibly dynamic character-actor with an instantly recognizable face and rambunctious personality. The Kansas native joined the Marine Corp. in lieu of jail time after he’d been arrested twice by the age of 17. He began his career serving as a drill instructor in San Diego during the early 1960s before eventually being sent on a 14-month deployment in Vietnam. He was injured during his tour in 1969 and was sent to work as a staff sergeant in Okinawa before being medically discharged in 1972, ending his hopes of a long military career. After moving to the Philippines to attend college, Ermey married and began taking odd jobs in television commercials before landing his first film role as Sgt. Loyce in a movie called The Boys in Company C, which followed five young Marine Corp. recruits from their bootcamp training to their deployment in Vietnam.
While still in the Philippines, Ermey was recruited to serve as a military and technical advisor on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now, in which he also made a brief appearance as a helicopter pilot. His big break in the movie business, however, came a decade later when he was cast as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, another Vietnam drama that closely echoed the plot of The Boys in Company C, but with Kubrick’s unparalleled approach to filmmaking. Ermey received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the charismatic, insult-hurling drill instructor, and went on to star in a wide variety of roles. He appeared as Mayor Tillman in Mississippi Burning, as corrupt backwoods Texas Sheriff Hoyt in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as “Coach” in Saving Silverman, and provided the voice of plastic army leader “Sarge” in the Toy Story films. Ermey, or “Gunny” as he is affectionally nicknamed, is survived by his wife Marianila and their six children.