James “Radio” Kennedy, who became a fixture at a South Carolina high school for more than five decades and served as inspiration for a 2003 film starring Cuba Gooding Jr., died Sunday. He was 73.
Former T.L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones confirmed Kennedy’s death Sunday morning, the Anderson Independent Mail reported.
“He was just a fine, fine man,” Jones told the newspaper. “We all loved him. We will miss him incredibly.”
Caregiver Jackie Kennedy confirmed Kennedy was taken to a hospice center in Anderson on Saturday afternoon and died Sunday morning, WYFF reported.
Kennedy roamed the sidelines at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson for more than 50 years. he was noticed in 1964 by Jones, who befriended the then-high school student, WTLX reported. He soon became well known locally and earned national attention after a Sports Illustrated article was published, the television station reported.
That led to the film Radio, which IMDB.com called, “The story of a high school coach and the developmentally challenged man who he took under his wing.”
Gooding Jr. played the role of Kennedy, while Ed Harris portrayed Jones.
Kennedy got his nickname because of an ever-present transistor radio, according to former T.L. Hanna High School Principal Sheila Hilton.
“At that time, (Kennedy) was a teenager, with a transistor radio seemingly attached to his ear, who could barely speak and had never learned to read or write," Hilton told WYFF several years ago. “He was nicknamed Radio by the coaches and players. He became a fixture at football practices, standing passively and watching, until one day when he began to mimic the coaches’ signals and tried his hand at yelling out commands. At that point, he could have been labeled a distraction and sent away. But he was not. The coaches embraced him, and as coaches came and went, someone would always take over in caring for him.”
Kennedy had been hospitalized in early December and treated for pancreatitis, along with diabetes and kidney issues, Jones told WYFF.
“Radio was the heart and soul of T.L. Hanna for over 50 years, and the impact he made in our community can’t be overstated,” Kyle Newton, a spokesman for Anderson School District 5, said in a statement Sunday morning. “He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the countless lives he touched.”
Kennedy was inducted into the T.L. Hanna High School Hall of Fame in 2016, WYFF reported.
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