Jim Kelly, who rose to fame in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon and went on to star in several blaxploitation films, has died. He was 67.
NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reported on Kelly for our Newscast unit. Here’s what he said:
”Black Belt Jones, Three the Hard Way and Black Samurai — all starring Jim Kelly as an African-American martial arts master — busy looking good in a funky Afro.
“Kelly’s break-out role was in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon.
“It’s a favorite of martial arts film fan Christopher Scott of Brooklyn, New York: ‘If it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be any other martial arts in different colors.’
“According to his ex-wife, Jim Kelly died of cancer on Saturday at home in San Diego.”
In recent years, The Associated Press notes, Kelly drew “lines of autograph seekers at comic book conventions.
Kelly began training in martial arts in 1964 in Kentucky. He got his black belt five years later in San Diego. He told Salon in a 2010 interview that that was when he had to decide what to do with his life:
“I said, ‘What will make me happy?’ I said, ‘I need to make a lot of money, I need to be very famous, and I need to be motivational for kids.’ Since I wasn’t going to play professional football, and I was a very good football player. I played college football and I could have gone on to play pro. Since I wasn’t going to do that, how was I going to get these needs of mine met? I said, ‘Why don’t I become an actor?’ What I had to do was become world karate champion and use that as a stepping stone and maybe get into the movies.”
He told Salon that working with Lee “was one of the best experiences in my life.”