Cool Hand Luke

According to Variety, Oscar-winning character actor George Kennedy has died. The news was initially reported by his grandson, Cory Schenkel, in a brief Facebook post, and CNN is reporting that Kennedy’s death was due to “old age and some health issues.” He was 91.

Kennedy was born in New York in 1925 to a family of performers, his father (who died when Kennedy was four) being a musician and his mother a ballet dancer. He got a little bit of stage acting experience as a kid, but he put the theater aside during World War II and spent 16 years in the military. He eventually became a military advisor for the Phil Silvers Show, which led to him breaking into TV acting in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Kennedy guest-starred on a handful of Westerns, with occaisional appearances in big-name features like The Flight Of The Phoenix and The Dirty Dozen, but his real big break came in 1967 when he played Dragline in Cool Hand Luke opposite Paul Newman. Kennedy would go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film.


By the ‘70s, Kennedy had become an in-demand character actor, appearing as reluctant mechanic Joe Patroni in all four Airport movies. He also popped up in Earthquake and starred in a pair of short-lived TV shows, Sarge and The Blue Knight. As his career went on, though, Kennedy started embracing a love of comedy, appearing as himself in Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance and playing Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun movies.

His final acting role was as Ed in director Rupert Wyatt’s remake of The Gambler in 2014.