Jim Kelly, the actor who starred along side Bruce Lee in the 1973 martial arts classic Enter The Dragon, has died at the age of 67. A spokesperson said that he died on Saturday of cancer at his Californian home.
Famous for his big Afro hair and side burns, Kelly became a huge success after playing Williams, an inner-city karate instructor who is harassed by white police officers. His character made a huge impression upon directors and African-American males, with his ice cool persona and formidable fighting skills. This lead to a string of martial arts themed films, including Three The Hard Way, Black Belt Jones and Hot Potato.
Kelly’s character Williams in Enter The Dragon was originally meant to be played by actor Rockne Tarkington, but he unexpectedly dropped out days before shooting began in Hong Kong. Searching for a replacement, producer Fred Weintraub heard about Jim Kelly’s karate studio in Los Angeles, and went there to see him and was immediately impressed.
Kelly always spoke highly of Bruce Lee, an actor and martial artist he had always admired, and was quoted as saying that he was “the greatest martial artist, that ever lived.”