Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly was a great martial artist who made movies in the 1970’s.   He died in 2013 at the age of 67.   Here is his Guardian obituary.

The martial artist and actor Jim Kelly, best known for his nonchalant turn in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, has died at the age of 67.   Kelly was picked to star in the martial arts classic two years later. He plays the arrogant, insouciant Williams, who competes alongside Lee in a sinister competition organised by the mysterious Mr Han on a James Bond-style island. Kelly’s impressive afro, sideburns and good looks made him the perfect choice for a film shot at the height of blaxploitation.

Kelly has since become a huge cult figure, though his acting career never quite took off despite a good deal of success in similar 1970s fare. Appearances in films such as Black Belt Jones, Three the Hard Way (both 1974) and Black Samurai usually played on the novelty of an African American who practices martial arts. He was little seen on the big screen after 1982’s late-era blaxploitation martial arts effort One Down, Two to Go, and later pursued a career in tennis.

“It was one of the best experiences in my life,” Kelly told salon.com in 2010 when asked whether he enjoyed his time on Enter the Dragon. “Bruce was just incredible, absolutely fantastic. I learned so much from working with him. I probably enjoyed working with Bruce more than anyone else I’d ever worked with in movies because we were both martial artists. And he was a great, great martial artist. It was very good.”

In a separate interview with the LA Times the same year, Kelly said he had “never left the movie business”, adding: “It’s just that after a certain point, I didn’t get the type of projects that I wanted to do. I still get at least three scripts per year, but most of them don’t put forth a positive image. There’s nothing I really want to do, so I don’t do it. If it happens, it happens, but if not, I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished.”

Kelly died on Saturday at his home in San Diego and had been suffering from cancer, according to his ex-wife Marilyn Dishman, who broke the news on Facebook. “Yesterday, June 29, 2013, James Milton Kelly, better known as Jim Kelly, the karate expert, actor, my first husband and Sabrena Kelly-Lewis’s biological father died,” she wrote in a note.

Kelly’s best-remembered line in Enter the Dragon is probably the one where he is challenged by Shih Kien’s villainous Han to prepare himself for inevitable defeat. “I don’t waste my time with it,” sneers Williams. “When it comes I won’t even notice … I’ll be too busy looking good.

The Guardian obituary can be access on-line here.


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