Jim Kelly, the iconic Afro-sporting co-star of “Enter The Dragon” passed away on July 1, 2013. He was 67 years old.
A martial arts expert, holder of the 1971 World Middleweight Karate Title and founder of a karate dojo in Los Angeles, Williams was cast alongside Bruce Lee in 1973, in what would be the first martial arts film made by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Brothers) and also Lee’s final film, released just days after his death later that year.
As Lee was breaking down color barriers in Hollywood as a Chinese American superstar, Kelly was trailblazing as well, introducing a swaggering Black martial arts icon to the world, uniting Asian and Black cultural mythologies into an archetype that would influence cultural and political bonds between these communities and influence generations, from the Wu Tang Clan to the Black Panther Party. These cultural dynamics are explored in detail in historian Vijay Prashad’s touchstone book, “Everyone Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity.
After starring in “Enter the Dragon”, Kelly would go on to star in a number of other similarly inspired films, notable 1974’s “Black Belt Jones” and 1977’s “Black Samurai”. Although primarily active as an actor in the 1970s and 1980s, Kelly remained a widely recognizable and visible personality until his death, as the cultural influence of “Enter the Dragon” and the cult-status of his own identity have continued to grow.
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