Jim Kelly (martial artist)

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Jim Kelly
JimKellyBlackSamurai.JPG
Kelly in Black Samurai (1977)
BornJames Milton Kelly
(1946-05-05)May 5, 1946
Millersburg, Kentucky[1]
DiedJune 29, 2013(2013-06-29) (aged 67)
San Diego, California
OccupationMartial Artist, Actor, athletic instructor
Years active1972—2013
Spouse(s)Marilyn Dishman (1967–1968; divorced)
 
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Jim Kelly
JimKellyBlackSamurai.JPG
Kelly in Black Samurai (1977)
BornJames Milton Kelly
(1946-05-05)May 5, 1946
Millersburg, Kentucky[1]
DiedJune 29, 2013(2013-06-29) (aged 67)
San Diego, California
OccupationMartial Artist, Actor, athletic instructor
Years active1972—2013
Spouse(s)Marilyn Dishman (1967–1968; divorced)

James Milton "Jim" "the Dragon" Kelly (May 5, 1946 – June 29, 2013) was an American athlete, actor, and martial artist who rose to fame in the early 1970s. Kelly is perhaps best known as Williams in the 1973 film Enter the Dragon.[2]

Early life[edit]

Kelly was born in Millersburg, Kentucky. His father ran a locker-rental service for Navy personnel.[3] Kelly began his athletic career in high school, competing in basketball, football, and track and field. He attended the University of Louisville where he played football, but left during his freshman year to begin studying Shorin-ryu karate.

Kelly began his martial arts career under the tutelage of Sin Kwan The (Shaolin-Do) in Lexington, Kentucky. He also trained in Okinawan karate under the direction of Parker Shelton, Nate Patton, and Gordon Doversola. During the early 1970s, Jim Kelly became one of the most decorated world karate champions in the sport. In 1971, Kelly won four prestigious championships that same year, most notably, the World Middleweight Karate title at the 1971 Long Beach International Karate Championships.

He opened his own dojo which was frequented by numerous Hollywood celebrities. He taught karate to actor Calvin Lockhart for a role in a thriller feature film Melinda; he ended up playing a martial arts instructor in the movie.[4] He was a professional tennis player on the USTA Senior Men's Circuit. He often played amateur tennis in the 1970s at Los Angeles' Plummer Park in West Hollywood.

Acting career[edit]

As an actor, Kelly became the first Black martial arts film star. Jim Kelly co-starred alongside Bruce Lee in the block buster, Enter the Dragon. The role was originally supposed to go to actor Rockne Tarkington, who unexpectedly dropped out days before shooting in Hong Kong. Producer Fred Weintraub had heard about Jim Kelly's karate studio in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, and went there to see him and was immediately impressed.[5] Kelly's role as Williams, an inner-city karate instructor who is harassed by white police officers, made a good impression upon directors and African-American males with his cool-cat demeanor and formidable physical skills.

This appearance led to starring roles in a string of martial arts-themed blaxploitation films, among them Melinda and Black Belt Jones. This being the only role where he was the primary star. Most of Kelly's film roles played up the novelty of an African-American martial arts master.

He earned a three-film contract with Warner Brothers and made Three the Hard Way with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, and Hot Potato, a movie in which he rescues a diplomat's daughter from the jungles of Thailand. After his contract ended with Warner Brothers, he starred in low-budget films Black Samurai, Death Dimension, and Tattoo Connection.

After his appearance in 1982's One Down, Two to Go, Kelly appeared in movies only rarely.

A deleted scene from the film "Undercover Brother", included on the DVD extra features, shows him in a cameo appearance with Eddie Griffin.

In 2009 Kelly played Cleavon Washington in his last film, albeit a cameo appearance in the 2009 film Afro Ninja produced, directed and starring veteran stuntman Mark Hick.

Death[edit]

On June 29, 2013, Kelly died of cancer at his home in San Diego, California. Kelly was 67 years old.[1]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Television[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]