George Kennedy

Active - 1957 - 2014  |   Born - Feb 18, 1925 in New York, New York, United States  |   Died - Feb 28, 2016   |   Genres - Drama, Action, Comedy, Western, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Born into a show business family, George Kennedy made his stage debut at the age of two in a touring company of Bringing up Father. By the time he was seven, he was spinning records on a New York radio station. Kennedy' showbusiness inclinations were put aside when he developed a taste for the rigors of military life during World War II, and he wound up spending 16 years in the army. His military career ended and his acting career began when a back injury in the late 1950s inspired him to seek out another line of work.

Appropriately enough, given his background, Kennedy first made his name with a role as a military advisor on the Sergeant Bilko TV series. In films from 1961, the burly, 6'4" actor usually played heavies, both figuratively and literally; quite often, as in Charade (1963) and Straitjacket (1964), his unsavory screen characters were bumped off sometime during the fourth reel. One of his friendlier roles was as a compassionate Union officer in Shenandoah (1965), an assignment he was to treasure because it gave him a chance to work with the one of his idols, Jimmy Stewart.

Kennedy moved up to the big leagues with his Academy Award win for his portrayal of Dragline in Cool Hand Luke (1967). An above-the-title star from then on, Kennedy has been associated with many a box-office hit, notably all four Airport films. Unlike many major actors, he has displayed a willingness to spoof his established screen image, as demonstrated by his portrayal of Ed Hocken in the popular Naked Gun series. On TV, Kennedy has starred in the weekly series Sarge (1971) and The Blue Knight (1978), and was seen as President Warren G. Harding in the 1979 miniseries Backstairs at the White House. During the mid '90s, he became known as a persuasive commercial spokesman in a series of breath-freshener advertisements. In 1997, he provided the voice for L.B. Mammoth in the animated musical Cats Don't Dance, and the following year again displayed his vocal talents as one of the titular toys-gone-bad in Small Soldiers. Kennedy continued to steadily work through the next two decades; his final role was in The Gambler in 2014. He died in 2016, at age 91.

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  • Father was a musician and orchestra leader; mother was a ballet dancer.
  • Made stage debut at the age of 2 in a touring company of Bringing Up Father.
  • Enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and served for 16 years, including duty during World War II. Later, he became a disc jockey on Armed Forces Radio.
  • While serving in the Army, he helped open the first Army Information Office, which provides technical assistance to films and television shows.
  • After his Army career ended, he became a technical advisor for The Phil Silvers Show and landed a few uncredited appearances, which ignited his acting career.
  • His first speaking role in a major film came in 1960's Spartacus in which he was the last slave to famously exclaim "I am Spartacus."
  • Legally adopted his granddaughter Taylor after his daughter, Shaunna, was deemed an unfit parent.
  • Authored three books: mysteries Murder on Location (1983) and Murder on High (1984) and an autobiography titled Trust Me (2011).