The Great Jim Kelly Has Died

July 3, 2013
Martial Artist Jim Kelly

Martial Artist Jim Kelly

The great brotherhood of martial artists is suffering the loss of Jim Kelly, one of the most dynamic fighters and actors of the 1970’s.
Kelly is best remembered for his role as “Williams” in Bruce Lee’s “Enter The Dragon”.
Unlike many actors in the old martial arts flicks, Kelly could really fight.
He had been a well-rounded athlete in basketball, football and track and field at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He went on to study Shorin-Ryu and Okinawa-Te Karate and later opened his own school after winning an international middleweight championship. Kelly later went on to star in professional tennis.

Kelly as "Black Belt Jones"

Kelly as “Black Belt Jones”

Here’s a good write-up from CNN:

Los Angeles (CNN) — Jim Kelly, who parlayed his martial arts skills into a successful but brief career in action movies, has died. He was 67.

Kelly’s former wife Marilyn Dishman told CNN that the actor died Saturday of cancer, but did not elaborate.

Kelly worked as a martial arts instructor in Los Angeles when he was tapped for his first role in the action movie, “Melinda.” But he is best known for his work in the 1973 Bruce Lee film “Enter the Dragon.”

Kelly’s appearance in the movie was brief — fans lamented he was offed too soon — but his electrifying Afro, lanky 6-foot-2 frame and his wisecracks left an impression.

Producers came calling. And he capitalized on the attention by taking on the title role in “Black Belt Jones” the following year. A spate of other roles followed throughout the 70s, most notably “Three the Hard Way,” but then dried up.

In later years Kelly took up tennis professionally, becoming a ranked player on the USTA senior circuit.

“I never left the movie business,” Kelly told The Los Angeles Times in 2010, when a retrospective DVD set of his movies came out. “It’s just that after a certain point, I didn’t get the type of projects that I wanted to do.”

But he was never far from the screen or the spotlight.

In 2004, he starred with basketball star Lebron James in a Nike commercial that spoofed another Bruce Lee film, “Game of Death.” And he sometimes appeared at comic book conventions, much to the delight of his lasting fans.

Among them is Anthony Bourdain, star of CNN’s “Parts Unknown.”

“RIP Jim Kelly, hero of my grind house youth,” he posted on Kelly’s Facebook page.

The page posted the following announcement Sunday about the actor’s death:

“It is with sadness and regret that we must announce the passing of a great man and legend Jim Kelly. He will be deeply missed by all. Jim had great love for his family, friends, tennis and martial arts.

We are devastated by Jim’s passing but through faith and support from family, friends and fans-we are comforted, blessed and will remain strong.

He was survived by his lifetime partner of 33 years and wife.”

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3 Responses to The Great Jim Kelly Has Died

  1. Journeyman on July 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    ‘Black Belt Jones’ also merits a mention.

    In one sense it was just a cheesy ‘Blaxpolitation meets kung-fu’ movie – but (like Kelly’s character Williams in Enter The Dragon) – the blend of Black Consciousness and kick-ass action movies inspired a generation of inner city kids to get into martial arts.

  2. […] The world of martial arts lost another great one. […]

  3. Doug Manning on December 22, 2020 at 3:33 am

    From a home town boy born in Louisville and moved out west too…Jim Kelly will always be My favorite Home Town Hero…God Bless His Wife and Family,thank You for for sharing Him with us…

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