clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tough-guy actor George Kennedy dies at 91

By Bryan Alexander | Gannett News Service

George Kennedy, the Oscar-winning star of “Cool Hand Luke,” has died at aged 91, his grandson confirmed Monday.

Cory Schenkel said Mr. Kennedy died in his sleep at his Boise, Idaho, home early Sunday morning.

“He was a great actor and a great grandfather to me,” Schenkel said.

George Kennedy (right) flies a plane alongside Alain Delon (left) and David Warner) in “The Concorde: Airport ’79.”
George Kennedy (right) flies a plane alongside Alain Delon (left) and David Warner) in “The Concorde: Airport ’79.”

Mr. Kennedy won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role as the prison leader Dragline alongside Paul Newman in 1967’s “Cool Hand Luke.” It was Dragline who gave Newman’s prison character the nickname “Cool Hand Luke” during a prison poker game.

Mr. ennedy appeared in 1970s disaster movies including “Airport,” “Airport 1975,” “Airport 1977,” “The Concorde…Airport ’79” and 1974’s “Earthquake.”

The burly actor turned his tough-guy acting persona to comedy in the 1980s, starring in the “Naked Gun” franchise alongside Leslie Nielsen.

“The films featured these guys who had barely cracked a smile before onscreen,” says film historian Leonard Maltin. “These films reignited their careers in many ways and [Kennedy] played the part. He knew how to do comedy.”

Schenkel says Mr. Kennedy continued to work on films even after joining his extended family in Boise, Idaho, where his Oscar sat on the fireplace mantle in the living room. Schenkel joined Mr. Kennedy on the set for his last role in “The Gambler” alongside Mark Wahlberg in 2014.

“Every time he did a movie in the last 15 years he would say he was retiring afterwards,” said Schenkel. “And then another opportunity would come up and he would take it. My grandfather loved making movies that much.”