Bye Bye, Black Belt Jones

Jim Kelly, Enter the Dragon

Kelly as Williams in “Enter the Dragon.” One bad mother! (courtesy of Warner Brothers)

This Saturday, martial artist, actor and professional tennis player Jim Kelly passed away, yet another victim of cancer. He was 67 years old.

Kelly was best known for his role as Williams in the 1973 Bruce Lee classic Enter the DragonAnd believe me when I say that his huge afro and jive talking character made a huge impression, even though he was killed off far too early.

During his film career—which extended from his debut in the 1972 movie Melinda to the 2009 straight-to-video release of Afro Ninja—Kelly was more-or-less typecast as an ass-kicking, cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow karate warrior because, let’s face it, the guy had skills. Personally, though, I believe his best work came opposite Bruce Lee, as well as in “blaxploitation” films like Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way.

In his later years, Kelly entered the USTA senior circuit and became a ranked tennis player, albeit with a much smaller afro. He even reprised his role as Williams—sort of—in a 2004 Nike commercial with Lebron James that spoofed another Bruce Lee film, Game of Death.

Check it out HERE.

Jim Kelly never won any Oscars for his film roles—and he has the unfortunate pleasure of sharing a name with a famous NFL player, which may overshadow his legacy a bit—but I will never forget him since Williams was one of my favorite karate characters as a child. He will definitely be missed, but at least one thing is certain.

Now he’s kicking ass in that heavenly dojo in the sky. Rest in peace, my brother. And thanks for the memories.

Posted on July 1, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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