Tuesday, March 1, 2016

R.I.P. George Kennedy (1925-2016)

On February 28, 2016 actor George Kennedy passed away at the age of 91 in Middleton, Idaho from heart problems. Over the course of his career, he starred in over 200 productions in TV and film. He won an Oscar for his role alongside Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke; and is also remembered for his various other roles in films like Airport and The Naked Gun. He leaves behind an impressive body of work that shows his range from serious dramas to more comical performances, most of the time of which he was a straight man. His work remains influential to those looking for performances that complimented as well as enhanced the cinematic medium.

Kennedy was born on February 18, 1925 in New York City, New York to a show business family with a band leader father and a ballerina mother. He had an enviable life even before the age of 10; having made his stage debut at the age of 2 in Bringing Up Father, and would become a New York City radio DJ by the age of 7. While this was his early path, he would transition into the military and fought during World War II. He eventually reached the level of captain and spent 16 years on duty until he suffered from a debilitating back injury. In the late 50's, he transitioned back into acting - first appearing on The Phil Silvers Show.

In 1960, he made a brief appearance in Spartacus, which could be considered his cinematic debut. He would go on to appear in films like Charade and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. However, it was in 1967 that he became noticed as Dragline in Cool Hand Luke. While the film is best known for being one of Paul Newman's iconic films, Kennedy's role as the antagonist definitely left an impression, as he would go on to receive an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor because of it. It was presented by Patty Duke that year.

In an interesting twist, he was up that year against John Cassavettes for The Dirty Dozen - a film in which he co-starred. While his speech wasn't full of the familiar enthusiasm, he made sure to note that it was the greatest moment of his life. Considering that he would only go on to have more memorable work, it is easy to say that his Oscar win definitely paid off. He would soon go on to appear in several franchises, including Airport and The Naked Gun - the latter of whom's directors wanted Kennedy to star in their Airport parody Airplane!, but Kennedy insisted it would ruin his other franchise. He would also play the role of Carter McKay on the original Dallas.

The rest of his career was pretty impressive and he stayed busy for most of it. During his lifetime, he wrote three books. Two of them were murder mysteries called "Murder on High" and "Murder on Location." His third, published in 2011, was his autobiography called "Trust Me." Otherwise, he was married four times, most recently to Joan McCarthy. He had two children. He loved aviation and even owned two planes. Having a history of heart failure, his death from a heart ailment was to be expected, especially at his impressive age. 

Having last been seen in a brief role in the 2014 film The Gambler, opposite Mark Wahlberg, his career spanned over 70 years and left behind some of the greatest supporting players in cinema and TV history. Proving that he could do anything, he played drama and comedy with equal levity, often matching the charisma of his more well known co-stars. His work in franchises and on TV are so many that it is likely that you'll see him unexpectedly sometime soon. No matter what, he leaves behind an enviable body of work, the likes of which are reflective of a man passionate about his craft, and one who knew how to make us smile.

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