James Kennedy Dies at Age 73, Inspired 2003 Film 'Radio'

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2019

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  A close up view of a football on the field in Stanford Stadium prior to an NCAA football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Stanford Cardinal on November 30, 2019 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
David Madison/Getty Images

James "Radio" Kennedy, who inspired the 2003 film Radio starring Cuba Gooding Jr., died Sunday morning, according to ESPN's Mark Schlabach. He was 73.

Kennedy—who had an intellectual disability and served as the long-time team manager for South Carolina's Hanna High—began attending football practices at a middle school in Anderson, South Carolina, in the 1960s and attended Hanna High in the 1970s. 

Per Schlabach, Kennedy would show up to practices "usually holding a transistor radio to his ear and pushing his belongings in a shopping cart." He "liked to mimic the coaches on the sideline, gesturing and yelling at players."

The school's head coach, Harold Jones, befriended Kennedy, and Jones' family helped to care for Kennedy. Kennedy attended Hanna High as an unofficial junior, working in the cafeteria, taking special-education classes and serving as an assistant coach and manager for the football team.

"It's sad. It's very sad for us," Jones said of Kennedy's death. "Everybody loved him at the school and anybody he met loved him. He was just so outgoing and loved to hug you."

"He's an icon as far as we're concerned," he added. "He's been loved all over—not just in Anderson and the state but all over the country."

In 1996, Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith wrote a profile on Kennedy that inspired the film that was later made about his life. 

"When Radio dies, it'll be the biggest funeral in the history of Anderson," Herb Phillips, an assistant football coach at Hanna, told Smith in that profile. "It'll be like a senator's or a governor's funeral."

"Gonna be sad sad, like losing a family member," another assistant Terry Honeycutt, added.