James “Radio” Kennedy, who inspired a powerful 2003 film about a mentally challenged man with a fondness for high school football, has died. He was 73.
Kennedy battled health problems in recent years, including diabetes, kidney issues, and pancreatitis. He was taken to hospice care Saturday in Anderson County, South Carolina, his niece told local NBC affiliate WYFF. He passed away this morning.
Born in 1946, Kennedy was associated with the T.L. Hanna High School football program. He barely spoke and was unable to read or write, yet he was a fixture at football practices and games, always holding a transistor radio to his ear.
He became an honorary member of the football staff in the 1960s after players and coaches gave him the nickname “Radio.”
In 1964, former T.L. Hanna football coach Harold Jones befriended Radio. The story of their friendship was the subject of a Sports Illustrated article, which inspired the film Radio. Cuba Gooding Jr. played Kennedy, and Ed Harris portrayed Jones.
The film won two Image Awards the following year — Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for Gooding and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for Alfre Woodard, who played principal Daniels.
Kennedy was inducted into the T.L. Hanna Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. After receiving word that he had died, the school posted a tribute on its website.
“We love you and will miss you!” the message said.