If he plays the role of a military drill instructor with so much flair and realism, it is because he actually was one himself in real life. Born as Ronald Lee Ermey on 24 March 1944 in Emporia, Kansas, R Lee Ermey joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1961 and became a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot from 1965 to 1967. A year later, he was deployed in Vietnam and served for more than a year with the Marine Wing Support Group 17 and later did two tours of duty in Okinawa where he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Compelled to retire from the Corps in 1972 due to service related injuries, he flew to the Philippines and studied criminology and drama at the University of Manila using his G.I. Bill educational benefits.
In 1978, R Lee Ermey started his acting career in “The Boys in Company ‘C’,” a Vietnam War film where he played the role of a Marine drill instructor and which paved the way for him to be noticed by Stanley Kubrick. Then, he portrayed an Air Cavalry Officer in “Apocalypse Now,” where he doubled as Francis Ford Coppola’s technical advisor. His biggest break came in 1987 when he was cast by Stanley Kubrick to play Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, a tough drill instructor in “Full Metal Jacket.” To lend more realism to the film, Kubrick allowed Ermey to write or edit his own dialogue. As a result, R Lee Ermey won critical acclaim for his performance and was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor and received the Best Supporting Actor Award from the Boston Society of Film Critics. He would later play similar characters in “The Frighteners” and “Space: Above and Beyond” and would appear in 60 films in the course of his acting career.
A rifle expert and a pistol sharpshooter, R Lee Ermey was chosen to host a military history program on the History Channel called “Mail Call” where he answers on air military related questions from viewers. He also host another show over the same channel called “Lock and Load with R Lee Ermey” which feature the history and evolution of modern military armaments. He is also the spokesperson for Glock Firearms and Young Marines, among others.
Perhaps, a carry over of his military professionalism and apolitical discipline inculcated in the hearts and minds of men in uniform, R Lee Ermey claims to have no political leanings and is just a “middle-of-the-road” guy. An acid test of his adherence to the military code that an officer does not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do, finally came when he found and returned a bag of checks and money that he found lying along the road. A funny side to this incident is when the manager of the Wells Fargo branch who recognized Ermey step up to the counter hesitated to take the money for safekeeping thinking that he was on “Candid Camera.”