R. Lee Ermey is gone at the age of 74, having been felled by complications related to pneumonia. It is sad that a man’s man is felled by a disease rather than in a blaze of glory, leading a charge or in a firefight in some third world country, as so many have before him. The truth be known, R. Lee or Gunny to the world, likely would have preferred it that way, but surely died knowing he would be welcomed in Valhalla, that final resting place for uniformed patriots and centurions.
I deeply admire a man who checks pretentiousness at the door, and strides purposefully into a room, offering only himself as a measure of his character. This was the case with my own father, who shared many of R. Lee’s traits. Gunny was the real thing, a man who parlayed a humble upbringing into a fortune in Hollywood. What is unique about his success is that he didn’t let the sniveling, liberal, Hollywood elite change him. He remained true to himself. How many of us can say that with conviction.
Gunny left the Marine Corps after an 11 year stint. He was a drill instructor, or to those of us who have experienced the character building, humbling experience of boot camp, a DI. Drill instructors are not to be trifled with. When they are in your face, you have no where to go, but if you could, would gladly crawl back into your mother’s womb and start over again, anywhere besides where you are standing. Such is the business of preparing young men and now women for the savages of combat. It was this background that earned him a role in Full Metal Jacket, where he improvised at least 50% of the script handed to him by Stanley Kubrick. It came naturally. Kubrick cast R. Lee after watching a home made tape of Gunny berating an individual for a protracted period of time while tennis balls were thrown at him, never once deviating from the dialogue that was imprinted upon his brain. Kubrick described the Gunny’s repertoire of insults as being in the neighborhood of 150 pages. Age has reduced my memory, but the name of my DI along with the Senior Drill Instructor will be among the last things to leave my mind when the day comes to depart this world.
The Gunny had some 60 Hollywood credits, usually playing a hard nosed individual who was principled and possessed a flint rock edge. It wasn’t hard for him to “get in character”. Lately, he hosted the popular “Lock N’ Load” television series as well as “Mail Call”, another popular series. He was a spokesman for Glock firearms, lending urgency and purpose to the individual right to carry a firearm. The Gunny also served on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, where, I am sure, his pragmatic approach to firearms coupled with his considerable presence was most welcome.
With R. Lee Ermey, what you saw was what you got. He did not let the black-balling nature of Hollywood change him. He was well aware of the distaste that most of Hollywood had for him, but did not give an inch. He was a conservative who made no apologies, finding the political correctness of today to be an abstract term for folks whose character swayed with the tide. Mathew Bodine, an actor, offered the genius of poet Dylan Thomas in his thoughts upon learning of the Gunny’s death:
“Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light”
What is not to admire in a man who was exactly as he appeared, an epithet that few have earned. Rest In Peace Gunny, we’ll miss you.