Jim Kelly, famously known for playing martial artist Williams in Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, has died. The famed Blaxploitation actor was 67-years-old.
The New York Times reports:
Marilyn Dishman, Kelly’s ex-wife, said he died Saturday of cancer at his home in San Diego.
Sporting an Afro hairstyle and sideburns, Kelly made a splash with his one-liners and fight scenes in the 1973 martial arts classic. His later films included “Three the Hard Way,” ”Black Belt Jones” and “Black Samurai.”
During a 2010 interview with salon.com, Kelly said he started studying martial arts in 1964 in Kentucky and later moved to California where he earned a black belt in karate. He said he set his sights on becoming an actor after winning karate tournaments. He also played college football.
The role in the Bruce Lee film was his second. He had about a dozen film roles in the 1970s before his acting work tapered off. In recent years, he drew lines of autograph seekers at comic book conventions.
Kelly inspired the Bushido Brown character in The Boondocks. The Paris, Kentucky native appeared in a Nike commercial for LeBron James’ line of signature sneakers in the brand’s “Chamber Of Fear” ad campaign back in 2004.
A popular figure in the 70s and 80s, Kelly’s good looks and the fact that he was a legit African-American martial artist made him a hero to many. References to Kelly creeped into Hip-Hop thanks to shout outs in rhyme like the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard rapping, “Rough, kicking rhymes like Jim Kelly,” on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’.”
Rest In Power Jim Kelly.
Photo: Warner Bros.