LOS ANGELES — Tough-guy actor George Kennedy, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of a savage chain-gang convict in the 1960s classic “Cool Hand Luke,” has died.
His grandson Cory Schenkel says Kennedy died on Sunday morning of old age in Boise, Idaho where he moved with his late wife in 2002. He was 91.
“He passed Sunday morning, due to old age and some health issues,” Schenkel said.
He won the best supporting actor Oscar for the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke.” He played Dragline, a convict who is boss of a Southern chain gang, pitted against Paul Newman as the rebel prisoner who is bent on bucking the system.
After the critical and commercial success of “Cool Hand Luke,” Kennedy carved out a niche as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable supporting actors.
“The marvelous thing about that movie was that as my part progresses, I changed from a bad guy to a good guy,” Kennedy said in 1978, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “The moguls in Hollywood must have said, ‘Hey, this fellow can do something besides be a bad guy.’ ”
Kennedy was, by then, a go-to character actor. He played Joe Patroni, the mechanic and problem solver who was the one constant in the 1970s “Airport” movies. He also starred in 1974’s “Earthquake,” another disaster flick, about a quake that hits Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, he had a number of TV roles, including starring in the short-lived ’70s series “Sarge” and “The Blue Knight.”
The New York-born Kennedy came by his military gravitas honestly; he served in World War II and spent 16 years in the U.S. Army, many of them with Armed Forces Radio. In the 1950s, he was an adviser to Phil Silvers’ “Sgt. Bilko” show and then started getting acting roles.
Late in life, Kennedy wrote a memoir, “Trust Me,” in which he described growing up lonely in New York and the joy he found in acting.
“I considered the time I spent acting a gift from the beyond,” he told interviewer Brad Berkwitt. “It was what I could do best.”
With additional reporting from CNN.