George Kennedy was credited more than 180 roles in a six-decade acting career. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as “Dragline” in Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Originally, Kennedy came to acting by way of a career in the Army. He served as the military adviser to the Phil Silvers Show. His first role was in 1959 and he never looked back. He easily moved between television and film, drama and comedy, character roles and some starring ones too. He played straight-man to Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun films and television series, was the airline mechanic in the Airport films, played soldiers, cops, sheriffs and outlaws, and a lot of characters with loud voices. He was physically big, generally imposing and filled the screen with performances. Many of his early roles were naturally villains but in time augmented his dramatic roles with comedies. He frequently co-starred with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne.
In his later years he and his wife adopted his granddaughter when her mother was unable to raise her. George Kennedy was a stand-up guy.
I tried several times to get his autograph, using several different addresses but coming up short. Finally, I tracked him down to a home he had in Idaho and tried one last time. One day I was surprised by an email I got from him. I always provided my email address in letters I sent.
Rather than just answer your letter, I’m going to borrow from Lloyd Nolan, and tell you how, this very day, you touched my life…
It’s not a particularly joyous season. As you age beyond a certain point, a sense of uselessness seems to prevail. No matter how active your mind is, it seems that the bulk of all those years you’ve lived are being tugged along behind you in a big sack. You might fantasize you could sleigh ride with the neighbor’s kids, but the big sack would mercifully anchor you at the hilltop. As Mr. Nolan said, you feel, “I don’t know…old”. But you smile in fortitude.
America is gutting it out. We’re doing all the “chin-up” stuff we can think of, but our homes are worth half now of what they were 2 years ago. Your married kids are wondering how long they can hold on, and your grandkids just hold up a hand, “Not now, Grandpa…I’m texting”. At dinner one night I told a true story about John Wayne being quite a man, and our 16 year old admitted he had never seen him. “Is he the one who sang?”
In New York when I was a boy, my Mom told me that there were more than a hundred millionaires in America. I could hardly believe there were so many, as there are more than that now in Monaco. The word ‘trillion’ is now the inconceivable goal. How much is that? For a perspective, one trillion seconds is about 32,000 years ago. Yet, when congressmen talk about our national debt, how easily it rolls from the tongue.
I’m a believer in us. Americans were originally cast offs, sent to live in a place no one wanted. We have to earn it all over again. And we can.
Happy New Year, Mike, and thank you. The ‘play’ that I’ve been part of is nearing the end of the third act. I thank God for everything, and just being one of His critters has been a privilege.
I’m grateful to you and to God for your letter and the photos. Indeed, you touched my heart.
We corresponded a couple of more times and one day I received a personalized photo from him. A year or so after that I learned that he wife passed away, and then less than a year later he died. He was 91.