In Depth

Five things you didn’t know about R. Lee Ermey

Actor who played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman dies from pneumonia-related complications

R. Lee Ermey, best known for playing the terrifying drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, has died at the age of 74.

The actor passed away from pneumonia-related complications on Sunday, according to his manager, who said: “He will be greatly missed by all of us.”

Ermey earned a Golden Globe nomination for his turn as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, the foul-mouthed sadist who trains new US marine recruits in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 war film.

Here are five things you may not know about Ermey:

He was a drill instructor in real life

Ermey spent 11 years in the US Marine Corps, from 1961 to 1972, including two years as a drill instructor for recruits in San Diego. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant, before being medically retired as a result of injuries.

He voiced several cartoon characters

Ermey was often cast in military and police roles, but also voiced a series of authority figures in cartoons, ranging from Sarge in Toy Story and Colonel Leslie “Hap” Hapablap in The Simpsons to a prison warden in SpongeBob SquarePants.

He was on Donald Trump Jr’s shooting team

Ermey once described “Donny Trump” as a “dinger” on the shooting range, and speculated that the shooting gene could run in the family. In an interview in January 2016, during Donald Trump Snr’s presidential campaign, the actor told US news network TheBlaze: “I do know that if Trump gets to be our president, our commander in chief, I know one thing - our Second Amendment rights [to bear arms] are solid as a rock.”

He nearly died while filming Full Metal Jacket

Ermey had a serious car accident while making the movie, leaving him unable to work for four-and-a-half months. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine at the time of the movie’s release, Kubrick revealed that filming had been delayed after Ermey’s car skidded off the road at around 1am in Epping Forest, where some of the training scenes took place. “He broke all his ribs on one side, just tremendous injuries, and he probably would have died, except he was conscious and kept flashing his lights,” Kubrick said. Fortunately for Ermey, a motorist stopped to help him.

He made up half of his Full Metal Jacket lines

Kubrick also revealed that around 50% of Ermey’s dialogue in the film, especially the insults, came from the actor himself. “In the course of hiring the marine recruits, we interviewed hundreds of guys,” the director told Rolling Stone. “We lined them all up and did an improvisation of the first meeting with the drill instructor. They didn’t know what he was going to say, and we could see how they reacted. Lee came up with, I don't know, 150 pages of insults.”

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