Black culture suffered a major loss as June drew to a close, with news of Jim Kelly’s passing rippling across the web.
Despite not even being the first “Jim Kelly” to pop up in Google (wedged between the football player and the author), Kelly’s place in pop culture was huge. Best known for his Afro-ed role as Williams in the classic Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon and as the titular hero Black Belt Jones, Kelly’s influence reached across the decades in myriad ways.
Kelly’s iconic look could be seen in the folds of the Samuel L. Jackson-voiced anime character Afro Samurai as well.
Even the humor of the Blaxploitation-themed animated series Black Dynamite showcases elements of Kelly’s swagger.
It was all a long way from his Paris, Kentucky birth 67 years prior. Taking martial arts after a youth spent playing football, basketball and running track, even playing football for the University of Louisville, Kelly came to the world of acting after studying multiple forms and opening his own dojo. His instruction of actors led him to a small part, snowballing into more roles (many in Blaxploitation movies) and legendary status. Many people didn’t know that he was also a professional tennis player and instructor. A regular on the convention circuit, Kelly was widely regarded as gracious and friendly, happy to discuss his work and take time with fans.
In the words of our ancestors, anedge hirak Jim Kelly, and thank you.