James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, a beloved fixture of an Anderson, South Carolina high school football program whose life served as inspiration for the 2003 film “Radio,” passed away Sunday. He was 73 years old.
Kennedy, who was mentally disabled, was an unofficial 11th grade student at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, South Carolina, where he was one of the football team’s biggest supporters and hype men since the 1960s. He often attended games, cheering on players from the sidelines, and even led players out onto the field.
He did little without his trusty transistor radio pressed to his ear, which earned him his iconic nickname.
It was head football coach Harold Jones who took Radio under his wing when he first appeared on the school’s football field as a teenager in 1965. He would become an integral part of the football program, mimicking the coaches on the sidelines.
Kennedy could barely speak and never learned to read or write, according to Anderson news outlet WSPA, which first reported his passing. As a staple at football games and practices, the local man was quickly embraced by the community.
“He was just a fine man. We all loved him,” Jones said, confirming Radio’s death. “We will miss him incredibly.”
Their bond served as inspiration for the movie “Radio,” which debuted in 2003 and starred Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. Jones was played by Ed Harris.
Kennedy’s “bright light” and inspiration went far beyond the football field. According to TMZ, he and Jones braved the bitter cold one Christmas season after learning the Salvation Army was struggling to collect donations. So they stood outside the local Sam’s Club and encouraged folks to drop a few coins in the iconic red kettles.
The pair would go on to spend several Saturdays outside the wholesale store collecting donations for the charity.
Local officials said Radio had been hospitalized prior to his death Sunday. He had been struggling with several ailments, including pancreatitis and diabetes, and was recently moved into hospice care.
The McDougald Funeral Home in Anderson announced Radio had passed away, surrounded by relatives.
Former T.L. Hanna Principal Sheila Hilton lauded the hometown hero amid news of his death.
“Generations of Hanna students and faculty had an opportunity to know Radio,’ Hilton wrote in a statement. “Everyone has a story to tell, some of them priceless — his eating a cooler full of sandwiches that had been made for the team and stored safely on the bus; his pass-kick-and-throw half-time shows; his permanent status as a junior, with no threat of graduation; and his astounding ability to name the mascot of any team in the state.”
Anderson School District 5 Spokesperson Kyle Newton described him as the "Heart & Soul " of T.L. Hanna.
“He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the countless lives he touched,” Newton added.
Countless others offered their prayers and condolences online.
“I went to school here,” one Twitter user wrote. “He rode my school bus and i used to talk to him.”
Kennedy’s funeral is planned for Dec. 21