James “Radio” Kennedy, the inspiration for the 2003 Cuba Gooding Jr. film “Radio,” died early Sunday at age 73.
Harold Jones, the former football coach at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson County, South Carolina, played by Ed Harris in the film, confirmed Kennedy’s death to the Anderson Independent Mail.
The 2003 film centered on the relationship between Jones and Kennedy, a young man with intellectual disabilities and an infectious smile who had long been drawn to Hanna’s football program since showing up on the field as a teenager in the mid-1960s.
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He gained the nickname “Radio” for the transistor radio he kept with him at all times — and soon won acceptance from both the team as well as the surrounding community — where he became what the Independent Mail called an “unofficial 11th-grader” at T.L. Hanna High School for decades.
“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,” former T.L. Hanna High Principal Sheila Hilton told local TV station WYFF. “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.”
Anderson County’s embrace of Kennedy sparked a memorable Sports Illustrated story, which led to director Michael Tollin’s 2003 film — which earned both Gooding and supporting actress Alfre Woodward NAACP Image Awards.
According to the Independent Mail, Kennedy continued to volunteer regularly even as he faced health issues in recent years — and twice led the Hanna football team onto the field this season with the help of a golf cart.
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