Jim Kelly sadly passed away Saturday at age 67, losing a kung-fu battle to cancer. Kelly was probably the best black martial artist to grace the silver screens of America. His highest-profile role by far was as Williams in Enter the Dragon, co-starring with John Saxon and Bruce Lee. Warner Bros. sensed his extraordinary magnitude and gave him a starring role in Black Belt Jones, a perfect marriage of martial arts and Blaxploitation that should be viewed by fans of either of those genres. He had a few other starring roles with Hot Potato, Black Samurai, The Tattoo Connection (a.k.a. Black Belt Jones 2, but not really), and Death Dimension. He also hooked up with fellow Blaxploitation superstars Jim Brown and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson on such awesome films as Three the Hard Way, Take a Hard Ride, and One Down, Two to Go (pretty ominous title now).
Kelly would have been as cool as the other side of the pillow, but his outstanding afro meant that he never had to use a pillow. Although he’s been out of the acting game for a long time (and playing the tennis game, he was a pro for a while and had been an instructor for several years) he left a fist-shaped impact on kung fu and Blaxploitation cinema in the ’70s and will be missed.
(Probably my favorite intro and opening theme to any movie ever.)