George Kennedy, the hulking, tough-guy character actor who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a chain-gang convict in the 1960s classic Cool Hand Luke, has died. His grandson Cory Schenkel says Kennedy died on Sunday morning of old age in Boise, Idaho, the AP reports. He was 91. He had undergone emergency triple bypass surgery in 2002. That same year, he and his late wife moved to Idaho to be closer to their daughter and her family, though he still was involved in occasional film projects. His biggest acting achievement came in Cool Hand Luke, a 1967 film about a rebellious war hero played by Paul Newman who is bent on bucking the system as a prisoner on a Southern chain gang. Its theme of rebelling against authority and the establishment helped make it one of the most important films of the tumultuous 1960s.
The movie garnered four Academy Award nominations, and Kennedy was named best supporting actor. After the critical and commercial success of Cool Hand Luke, Kennedy carved out a niche as one of Hollywood's most recognizable supporting actors. He had parts in several action flicks in the 1970s, played Leslie Nielsen's sidekick in the Naked Gun spoofs, and was JR Ewing's business rival in the final seasons of Dallas. One of his strongest supporting roles was in the hit 1970 film Airport, which spurred the run of 1970s disaster pictures. Kennedy said his acting ambitions were cemented when he was a young child. "I remember listening to a radio program when I was young and it made me feel good and I remember telling my mom that I wanted to make people feel the way this radio program made me feel," Kennedy said in 1995. "I got some great breaks, and I wound up being an actor." (Read more obituary stories.)