To many, Jim Kelly was a martial arts icon. One of the few people that was tight with karate superstar Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly was revered long after he left the movie business. is gone. For fans of 70s and 80s martial arts flicks, the death of Jim Kelly is extremely sad. Many of the martial artist’s fans have responded to the news of his passing on Twitter.
Marilyn Dishman, the actor’s wife, said he passed away at his home in San Diego on Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 67 years old.
Jim Kelly was born in Paris, Kentucky on May 5, 1946. After studying martial arts in his home state, he eventually made the move to California where he earned his black belt in karate. According to The Associated Press, Kelly dreamed of being a tournament champion as well as an actor.
Kelly made his big-screen debut in the acclaimed 1972 blaxploitation flick Melinda. However, it was his turn in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon that would effectively put the charismatic martial artist on the map.
Jim Kelly would go on to star in a number of kung fu movies during 70s and 80s, many of which have become cult favorites over the years. His big screen credits include Black Belt Jones, Hot Potato, The Golden Needles, and The Tattoo Connection. While these films weren’t as popular as Enter the Dragon, they were still incredibly enjoyable efforts from a guy who clearly loved martial arts.