Jim Kelly (martial artist)
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Kelly in Black Samurai (1977)
|Born||James Milton Kelly
May 5, 1946
|Died||June 29, 2013
San Diego, California
|Occupation||Martial Artist, Actor, athletic instructor|
|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. He was best known for his performance as Williams in the 1973 film Enter the Dragon.
Kelly was born in Millersburg, Kentucky. His father ran a locker-rental service for Navy personnel. 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. 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.
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. 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.
In 2009 he played Cleavon Washington in what would be his last film, albeit a cameo appearance in the film Afro-Ninja produced, directed and starring veteran stuntman Mark Hick.
- Melinda (1972)
- Enter the Dragon (1973) as Williams
- Black Belt Jones (1974) as Black Belt Jones
- Three the Hard Way (1974) as Mister Keyes
- Golden Needles (1974)
- Take a Hard Ride (1975) as Kashtok
- Hot Potato (1976) as Jones
- Black Samurai (1977) as Robert Sand
- The Tattoo Connection (a.k.a. E yu tou hei sha xing, Black Belt Jones 2) (1978)
- Death Dimension (1978)
- The Amazing Mr. No Legs (1981)
- One Down, Two To Go (1982)
- Stranglehold (1994)
- Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted (2004)
- Afro Ninja Destiny (2009)
- Afro Ninja (2009)
- Highway To Heaven (1985/1986) (2 episodes)
- Yardley, William (July 1, 2013), "Jim Kelly, Star of Martial Arts Movies, Dies at 67", The New York Times
- Ryfle, Steve (January 10, 2010). "DVD set is devoted to '70s martial arts star Jim Kelly". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
- Calhoun, Bob. "Jim Kelly, "Enter the Dragon's" baddest mother". Salon.
- Horn, John (July 1, 2013), "Jim Kelly, 'Enter the Dragon' star, dies at 67", The Los Angeles Times
- Jim Kelly at the Internet Movie Database
- Jim Kelly at AllRovi
- Jim Kelly on Twitter
- Jim Kelly on Facebook
- Jim Kelly Personal website