George Kennedy, Oscar Winner and Character Actor Supreme, Dies at 91
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is the funniest movie of all time. This is not opinion; this is fact, backed up by math and science. And a big reason why is George Kennedy, who, according to TMZ, died yesterday at the age of 91.
In all three Naked Gun films, Kennedy played Captain Ed Hocken, the committed, hard-working, and ever-so-slightly dim boss of Leslie Nielsen’s Lt. Det. Frank Drebin. Kennedy and Nielsen had magnificent comic chemistry. Each could perfectly mimic the tough talk of old cops shows, a skill they honed during years in the B-movie trenches. Both could descend into straight-faced silliness at a moment’s notice. And either could play straight man to the other depending on the demands of the scene. Here’s just a brief snippet of their combined magic:
Although The Naked Gun will headline most Kennedy tributes, his legacy goes way beyond it. Before he became a comedy icon, Kennedy spent decades working as a popular character actor. He came to Hollywood after serving in World War II at Armed Forces Radio. A job in the Army Information Office landed him a spot as a military consultant on The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko) where he was discovered; slowly, Kennedy began to find small parts in film and TV. He appeared in Spartacus and Charade, and on tons of television shows through the 1960s. In 1967, he won an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke. Here’s his brief but moving acceptance speech:
Kennedy became even more famous in the 1970s; he was the centerpiece of the hugely successful Airport franchise of disaster movies. His character, Joe Patroni, was the only person to appear in all four Airports (although, somewhat confusingly, his character never held the same job twice; he was a mechanic in the first movie, the vice president of an airline in the second, and a pilot in the fourth). Kennedy also appeared in movies like The Dirty Dozen, Earthquake, The Delta Force, and Modern Romance. His last role came in the 2014 remake of The Gambler starring Mark Wahlberg.
Kennedy was also a published author and a pilot. (No wonder he could take charge in The Concord ... Airport ’79!) But even with all those accomplishments to his name, even with the Oscar for playing Dragline in Cool Hand Luke, even with all four Airport movies, he’ll probably be most fondly remembered for The Naked Gun films — at least by me. This man gave me some of the biggest laughs of my entire life. Like this one:
Thank you George.