R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket Drill Instructor Passes. Here’s Why I’m Sad.
The morning I picked up the phone to make the call I was excited...but also a little nervous. Not only was he was a bit of a personal hero...I had watched his movies for years. And I wasn't convinced yet his characters weren't an extension of who he was in real life. When he answered, his voice was gruff, intimidating, and all business...
much like his character Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the iconic movie, Full Metal Jacket...I half expected him to hang up on me. So I took a deep breath and introduced myself, explaining I'd like to interview him about his role in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Then when I told him I was not just a huge fan...but also a former Drill Instructor myself, his voice instantly changed as if to say, "Well why didn't you tell me that from the beginning?" And it wasn't because I admired his movies...but because we shared a very unique career choice while serving in the United States Military.
We did the interview a few days later and it was great. A few days later he actually sent me an action figure dressed as his character in Full Metal Jacket. Over the years, I interviewed and spoke with actor, and veteran, R. Lee Ermey three or four times. Each time I called his home he answered the exact same way until he realized it was me. Then it was as if I was his son, or beloved nephew.
So this morning when I woke up and heard the Gunny had passed, I took it a little harder than expected. I've interviewed many, many celebrities over the years. Many much more famous than R. Lee Ermey. But none that I shared such a kinship with.
During that first conversation back in 2003, I told him when I was an Air Force Basic Training Instructor, my fellow instructors and I would watch the opening scene of Full Metal Jacket as inspiration...to get ourselves "geeked up" on the night new recruits would arrive. He loved hearing that! Then spent 15 or 20 minutes telling me about his time at Marine Corp Recruit Depot, Paris Island. Not only did he want to share his stories...he wanted to hear mine. It was truly one of the coolest moments of my life. And I treasure it just a little more today.