Over the course of a career spanning six decades, Kennedy appeared in over 200 film and television productions. His proudest hour may have come with his Academy Award win for his fearsome portrayal of the brutal prisoner Dragline in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, but Kennedy continued to wow audiences with his range and no-frills prowess again and again. Kennedy found success in the world of serial franchises with key roles in all four Airport films, which would later provide the basis of the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker team’s classic spoof Airplane!, and earn Kennedy a spot in their series of Naked Gun cop comedies. It was the first of several reinventions. Kennedy also had a high-profile TV role on ’80s soap Dallas, captivating national audiences on a weekly basis with his scheming.
Born into a showbiz family living in New York City, Kennedy was familiar with the spotlight from a young age, making his stage debut at two. Even after his father died shortly after George’s fourth birthday, he kept on with a burgeoning career as a child star, collecting credits in radio and vaudeville before joining the army to fight in World War II. There, he assisted in the creation of the Army Information Office, a sort of military liaison with movies and TV shows. Kennedy lived happily in Eagle, Idaho when not working, taking pleasure in the small-town life. As recently as 2014, he appeared in The Gambler alongside Mark Wahlberg and Brie Larson, easily holding his own with younger talents. Kennedy was a hardy, enduring talent, sharp all the way to the end, and an actor whose career gave a continual lie to the notion of American lives having no second (or third or fourth) acts.