Jim Kelly (martial artist)

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Jim Kelly
Kelly in Black Samurai, 1977.
James Milton Kelly

(1946-05-05)May 5, 1946
DiedJune 29, 2013(2013-06-29) (aged 67)
EducationBourbon County High School
University of Louisville
  • Martial artist
  • actor
  • athlete
  • athletic instructor
Years active1972–2013
Known forWilliams – Enter the Dragon[2]
Black Belt Jones – Black Belt Jones
Mister Keyes – Three the Hard Way
Marilyn Dishman
(m. 1967; div. 1968)

Marcia Bentley
(m. 1980⁠–⁠2013)
Partner(s)Rosalind Miles

James Milton Kelly (May 5, 1946 – June 29, 2013) was an American athlete, actor, and martial artist. Kelly rose to fame in the early 1970s appearing in several films. Kelly played opposite Bruce Lee in the 1973 martial arts action film Enter the Dragon.[4] He also had lead roles in 1974's Black Belt Jones as the title character and Three the Hard Way as Mister Keyes. Kelly died of cancer on June 29, 2013 at age 67.

Early life[edit]

His father ran a locker-rental service for Navy personnel.[5] He began his athletic career at Bourbon County High School in Paris, Kentucky, competing in basketball, football, and track and field. He attended the University of Louisville, where he played football, but left during his freshman year after a coach referred to a Black teammate with a racial slur.[6] Instead he began to study Shorin-ryu karate.[citation needed]

Kelly began his martial arts career under the tutelage of Sin Kwan The (Shaolin-Do) in Lexington, Kentucky. He 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.[citation needed] Kelly 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 (1972) and plays a martial arts instructor in the movie.[7] Kelly was also a professional tennis player on the USTA Senior Men's Circuit. He played amateur tennis in the 1970s at Plummer Park in West Hollywood.[citation needed]

Acting career[edit]

As an actor, Kelly became the first black martial arts film star. He co-starred alongside Bruce Lee in the blockbuster, Enter the Dragon (1973) in a role originally intended for actor Rockne Tarkington, who unexpectedly dropped out days before shooting in Hong Kong. Producer Fred Weintraub had heard about Kelly's karate studio in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, went there to see him, and was immediately impressed.[8]

This appearance led to starring roles in a string of martial arts-themed blaxploitation films, among them Melinda (1972),[9] and Black Belt Jones (1974). This was the only role in which 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 (1974) with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, and Hot Potato (1976), in which he rescues a diplomat's daughter from the jungles of Thailand.[citation needed] After his contract ended with Warner Brothers, he starred in low-budget films Black Samurai (1977), Death Dimension (1978), and Tattoo Connection (1978). After his appearance in One Down, Two to Go (1982), Kelly rarely appeared in movies. A deleted scene from the film Undercover Brother (2002), included on the DVD extra features, shows him in a cameo appearance with Eddie Griffin. In his last film, Kelly made a cameo appearance as Cleavon Washington in Afro Ninja (2009), produced, directed by, and starring veteran stuntman Mark Hicks.[10]

Personal life and death[edit]

Kelly was married two times; from 1967 until 1968 to his college sweetheart Marilyn Dishman and later to Marcia Bentley from 1980 to his death in 2013. From 1973 to 1976, Kelly dated film actress Rosalind Miles. On June 29, 2013, Kelly died of cancer at his home in San Diego, California. He was 67 years old.[1]





  1. ^ a b Yardley, William (July 1, 2013), "Jim Kelly, Star of Martial Arts Movies, Dies at 67", The New York Times, retrieved August 16, 2015
  2. ^ Black Belt - June 1974
  3. ^ Jim Kelly's Wife
  4. ^ Ryfle, Steve (January 10, 2010). "DVD set is devoted to 1970s martial arts star Jim Kelly". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  5. ^ Horn, John (July 1, 2013). "Jim Kelly, 'Enter the Dragon' star, dies at 67". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Walker, David; Rausch, Andrew J.: and Watson, Chris (2009). Reflections on Blaxploitation: Actors and Directors Speak. Lanham, Maryland: The Scare Crow Press, Inc. p. 111.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Calhoun, Bob (April 13, 2010). "Jim Kelly, "Enter the Dragon's" baddest mother". Salon.com.
  8. ^ Horn, John (July 1, 2013), "Jim Kelly, 'Enter the Dragon' star, dies at 67", The Los Angeles Times, retrieved August 19, 2015
  9. ^ Melinda. IMDb. 1972.
  10. ^ Staff (December 9, 2009). "Afro Ninja (Video 2009)". imdb.com. Archived from the original on April 9, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
  11. ^ Black Belt Jones 2. IMDb. 1978.
  12. ^ The Amazing Mr. No Legs. IMDb. 1979.
  13. ^ Stranglehold. IMDb. 1994.
  14. ^ Ultimatum. IMDb. 1994.
  15. ^ Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted. IMDb. 2004.

External links[edit]