R. Lee Ermey was a unique character in American film. When you needed someone to play a grizzled, in-your-face Marine drill instructor, Hollywood had just one stop to make. It was this character that really launched Ermey’s acting career and made him a part of my life.
Unfortunately for us, we are diminished today.
I’m not going to lie, I’m heartbroken.
You see, while I never got a chance to meet Ermey, his roll in Full Metal Jacket was a key part of my preparation to go to boot camp myself. While I was going Navy and not Marines, I knew that what Ermey portrayed would be worse than anything I would encounter.
So I watched his scenes each and every day until that became the reality I was sure to encounter. I was fully prepared to have R. Lee Ermey himself in my face, screaming at me, even punching me in the stomach if I smarted off (which I’ve been known to do since early childhood). Every moment of him in that film terrified me as I became convinced that he was what awaited me.
And then I shipped out.
I won’t say boot camp was a cakewalk because it wasn’t. But it also wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been because I had Ermey’s tough, hardnosed drill instructor prepping my wife.
Well after my time in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club was over, Ermey started doing Mail Call on the History Channel. It was there that I got a glimpse of what he was like as a person. There, he didn’t need to be the hardass Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War epic. There, he was a guy who got to mess with all the cool hardware I could only dream of.
Everyone I’ve known who met Ermey sung his praises, that he was an awesome, down-to-earth kind of guy. He was just another man who got to live a dream.
But he knew his reputation from his films and had no problem playing with them. Such as here:
In fact, some of you may have noticed my use of the term “jackwagon.” That’s directly because of Ermey’s role in this commercial.
Again, I never got a chance to meet the man, but I hoped that one of the opportunities I’d get through my work here at Bearing Arms would be the chance to shake his hand and tell him how much I’ve enjoyed his work. Maybe, if I got enough time, I’d recount my boot camp story to him.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen now. We’ve lost “The Gunny” forever. We are truly diminished today.
Most actors in Hollywood seem preoccupied with fitting a mold, of being liked. Ermey seemed to simply be R. Lee Ermey, and if anyone didn’t like it, tough. At the same time, though, it doesn’t seem like he went out of his way to offend, either. He simply was.
That is something we can all not just respect but emulate.
Goodbye, Gunny. We’re going to miss you.