The actor, athlete and martial artist Jim Kelly has died at the age of 67.
Widely regarded as the first Black martial arts film star, Kelly was best known for his role opposite Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, playing Williams, a nonchalant yet egotistical combatant that competes alongside Lee.
Chosen for the part after making a name for himself with a number of karate tournament wins, Kelly’s role as Williams came at the height of Blaxploitation prominence in the early 1970s. His handsome looks coupled with his large afro and sideburns catapulted him into the spotlight, turning him into a cult figure quickly. Despite his acting career never really taking off, Kelly was able to enjoy a fair amount of success in the years that followed.
Speaking with Salon back in 2010, Kelly said working on the Enter the Dragon was one of the best experiences of his life; “”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.”
Kelly, who had been suffering from cancer according to his ex-wife Marilyn Dishman, passed away on Saturday at his home in San Diego.
R.I.P. Jim Kelly (May 5, 1946 – June 29, 2013)