American actor George Kennedy died at age 91. Kennedy appeared in more than two hundred film and television productions. He is best remembered for portraying “Dragline” opposite Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. He died on the morning of February 28, 2016, of a heart ailment at an assisted living facility in Middleton, Idaho.
His eclectic roster of performances also includes Joe Patroni in Airport (for which he received his second Golden Globe nomination) and its three sequels, Police Captain Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun series of comedy films and corrupt oil tycoon Carter McKay on the original Dallas television series.
Kennedy was born on February 18, 1925 as George Harris Kennedy, Jr., in New York City, into a show business family. His father, George Harris Kennedy, a musician and orchestra leader, died when Kennedy was four years old. He was raised by his mother, Helen A. (née Kieselbach), a ballet dancer. His maternal grandfather was a German immigrant; his ancestry also included Irish and English.
Kennedy made his stage debut at age 2 in a touring company of Bringing Up Father, and by 7 was a New York City radio DJ. Joining the U.S. military during World War II, he spent 16 years in that career until the late 1950s, when a back injury prompted him to find other work. He reached a rank of captain. His first notable screen role was a military adviser on the TV sitcom The Phil Silvers Show, where he served as a technical adviser, a role which Kennedy later described as “a great training ground”.
After a brief appearance in the 1960 film Spartacus, his film career began in 1961 in The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. He appeared in several Hollywood movies, including Charade (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and In Harm’s Way (1965).
Kennedy made numerous television appearances on such shows as The Asphalt Jungle, The Andy Griffith Show, Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, Bonanza, Maverick, McHale’s Navy, Gunsmoke and Route 66. Kennedy played George Spangler in the 1963 Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Greek Goddess.” He portrayed the character “Blodgett” in a 1966 episode “Return to Lawrence” of the ABC western series The Legend of Jesse James.
Then came the role for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Cool Hand Luke (1967), that of “Dragline”, a chain-gang convict who at first resents the new prisoner in camp played by Paul Newman, then comes to idolize the rebellious Luke.
Kennedy followed this role with films such as The Dirty Dozen, Bandolero! and The Boston Strangler. In 1970, he appeared in the Academy Award-winning disaster film Airport, in which he played one of its main characters, airline troubleshooter Joe Patroni. He reprised this role in Airport 1975, Airport ’77 and The Concorde … Airport ’79.
The Airport franchise helped inspire the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker satire Airplane!, in which the filmmakers hoped to cast Mr. Kennedy as the bumbling plane dispatcher. The role went to Lloyd Bridges, because Mr. Kennedy “couldn’t kill off his Airport cash-cow,” Jerry Zucker said in 2010.
Kennedy co-starred with Clint Eastwood in a pair of films, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Eiger Sanction, and with ensemble casts in the disaster film Earthquake and the Agatha Christie mystery Death on the Nile.
In 1984, Kennedy starred opposite Bo Derek in the box-office bomb Bolero. He made other minor films including Savage Dawn, The Delta Force, and Creepshow 2 before playing a role in the comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! in 1988, playing Captain Ed Hocken opposite Leslie Nielsen’s comical cop Frank Drebin. There were two sequels in which Kennedy co-starred.
On television, Kennedy starred as Carter McKay in the CBS prime time serial Dallas (1978–1991), appearing from 1988 to 1991. From the mid- to late-1990s, he promoted Breathasure tablets in radio and television commercials. Around this time, he reprised his role as McKay in the television films Dallas: J.R. Returns and Dallas: War of the Ewings. In the late 1970s Kennedy also appeared as a celebrity guest on the television game show Match Game.
In 1998, he voiced Brick Bazooka for the film Small Soldiers. He then made several independent films before making a 2003 comeback to television in the soap opera The Young and the Restless, playing the character Albert Miller, the biological father to legendary character Victor Newman.
In 2005, he made a cameo appearance in the film Don’t Come Knocking, playing the director of an ill-fated western.
Kennedy’s final film appearance was in The Gambler (2014), in which he portrayed Ed, the dying grandfather of Mark Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett. His role lasts for less than two minutes during the film’s opening scene, wherein Ed (moments before his end) bequeaths the responsibilities of patriarch to a heartbroken Jim.
The hand prints of Kennedy in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.
For his contributions to motion pictures, Kennedy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6352 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Kennedy wrote three books. In 1983, he wrote the murder mystery Murder On Location, set on a film shoot. A second novel, Murder on High, was released in 1984. In 2011, he wrote his autobiography, Trust Me.
Kennedy was an aviator who enjoyed flying and owned a Cessna 210 and Beechcraft Bonanza.
Kennedy was married four times. He married his first wife, Dorothy Gillooly in the 1940s. He was then married and divorced twice from Norma Wurman, also known as Revel Wurman, with whom he had two children.
In 1978 Kennedy married Joan McCarthy, who died in September 2015. The couple adopted four children, including granddaughter Taylor, whose mother, one of their children, had drug-abuse issues.
Kennedy resided in Eagle, Idaho, at the time of his death. He died on the morning of February 28, 2016, of a heart ailment at an assisted living facility in Middleton, Idaho, at the age of 91. Prior to his death, he had a history of heart problems.