RIP Jim Kelly: The Original Black Samurai

RIP Jim Kelly: The Original Black Samurai

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There’s a scene in “Enter the Dragon” where Williams—played by Jim Kelly—is relaxing in his guest room after an easy win in a martial arts tournament. Suddenly six women are paraded in front of him, and Williams is asked to make a selection—a gift supplied by his island host, Mr. Han.

“For me? You shouldn’t have,” Kelly says, with a smile as he checks out the offering. “But I’ll take you darling…and you…and you…and you…and you.

“If I missed anyone, it’s been a big day,” Kelly adds, his smile widening. “I’m a little tired.

Kelly, a martial arts champion before his role in “Enter the Dragon” that led to his briefly becoming a major star in Blackpoitation films, died on Sunday at the age of 67 after a battle with cancer.

Kelly played his roles with style: Big ‘fro, long sideburns and a badass attitude. While his appearance alongside the legendary Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” was brief, Kelly’s screen stealing moments and charisma led him to star in such movies as Black Belt Jones and Three The Hard Way (alongside Jim Brown and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.)

When I was a kid there was a danger going to theater to see one of his films. Afterwards kids leaving the theater would launch themselves into the air, delivering drop kicks and karate screams in trying to emulate the smooth and stylish Kelly.

In 2004 Kelly appeared in a Nike commercial with LeBron James. And in recent years he made appearances at numerous comic book conventions, encountering many people who thought he was dead. The love he felt at those conventions led him last year to launch his own website, which game him an opportunity to cash in on his fame.

“Enter the Dragon” for Kelly, was a gift and a curse: a gift in that it made him into a major star in the early 1970s, and a curse because he was typecast as a martial arts ass-kicker. The roles eventually dried up, and eventually Kelly became a tennis player on the senior circuit of the United States Tennis Association.

Rest in Piece Jim Kelly, who was exactly how he described himself last year on his Facebook page:

The Original Black Samurai.