LOS ANGELES – Jim Kelly, an African-American actor and martial arts expert who starred opposite Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon,” has died at the age of 67.

Kelly, whose credits also included the “blaxploitation” films “Black Belt Jones” and “Three the Hard Way,” died Saturday in San Diego, said his ex-wife, Marilyn Dishman. No cause of death was disclosed.

“I broke down the color barrier — I was the first black martial artist to become a movie star,” Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “It’s amazing to see how many people still remember that.”

Distinguished by an oversized Afro, Kelly played college football but believed he had a better chance at becoming a karate champion than making it into the NFL.

He discovered karate by chance in the mid-1960s and quickly made it his life’s focus. In 1971, Kelly won the middleweight division title at the Long Beach International Karate Championships.

Soon afterward, he was hired to train actor Calvin Lockhart in karate for the 1972 thriller “Melinda,” and he ended up playing a martial arts instructor.

His breakthrough role in “Enter the Dragon” came after Rockne Tarkington, the actor originally set to play Kelly’s role in the classic film, dropped out of the production.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.