James ‘Radio’ Kennedy Dies: T.L. Hanna High School Legend Was 73

James 'Radio' Kennedy

Getty James 'Radio' Kennedy

James ‘Radio’ Kennedy, the inspiration behind Cuba Gooding Jr.’s 2003 film, Radio, has died at age 73.

“He was just a fine man. We all loved him. We will miss him incredibly,” football coach Harold Jones told TMZ.

His niece and caregiver, Jackie Kennedy, told WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina, that Radio was taken to Hospice of the Upstate in Anderson County and passed away Sunday morning. He had been hospitalized earlier in December, she told the news station.

Kennedy was inducted into the T.L. Hanna Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. You can watch a video of the induction ceremony here.

Kennedy, who faced mental challenges and health issues, served as an inspiration to many in his hometown of Anderson, South Carolina. He became an unofficial 11th-grade student at the T.L. Hanna High School in 1965. He attended football games and eventually led the football team onto the field. Kennedy was dubbed “Radio” because he was rarely seen without his rusty, transistor radio.

“Radio became an inspiration to the players and the town … truly spreading joy. A few years ago, the Salvation Army was struggling during the x-mas season and when Radio learned of it, he braved the bitter cold with Jones, stood outside a Sam’s Club and got hundreds of people to deposit cash in the kettle,” TMZ reported.

His story gained national attention with a 1966 Sports Illustrated article and reached further acclaim with the 2003 film, Radio.

“Sometimes God sends us inspiration in the human form… James Robert ‘Radio’ Kennedy was and will always be the wings to that inspiration. I will love and miss him always,” Gooding told PEOPLE in a statement.

Sheila Hilton, a former principal at T.L. Hanna High School, wrote a touching article about Kennedy and about the impact he left on the school.

“It would be easy to talk about all the school has done for Radio, but the miraculous thing about this story is what Radio has done for the school,” Hilton wrote. “It is perhaps a lesson of which all of us need to be reminded. Because he was embraced by caring people, he was stimulated to learn. Because he was loved, he found his place in the world. Because people looked past his disabilities and imperfections, he found a way to make his own unique contribution to the world. What a lesson there is to be learned here. How many lost souls could be saved with a little care and attention?”

Radio’s cause of death was not immediately released, but he had been ill and under hospice care. He suffered from pancreatitis, diabetes and kidney issues, TMZ reported.

Here’s what you need to know:

Radio Was Admitted Into Hospice Care the Day Before his Death & Hospitalized in Early December

While the cause of death for Radio was not immediately released, he had been suffering from health problems, his niece, Jackie Kennedy, told WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina. Radio, whose real name was James Robert Kennedy, had been hospitalized in early December. He was suffering from health issues including pancreatitis. He also had ongoing medical problems associated with diabetes and ongoing kidney problems.

Kennedy was admitted into hospice care the day before his death. He died the morning of Sunday, December 15, 2019, his niece told local news outlets. He died at Hospice of the Upstate in Anderson County, not far from his home.

His official cause of death has not been released.

He died just after midnight, surrounded by his family, according to T.L. Hanna Yellowjackets news.

“Details for his funeral will be handled by McDougald Funeral Home in Anderson. No details have been finalized at this time. Please keep his family in your prayers in this difficult time,” said T.L. Hanna’s Athletic Director, John Cann.

James Robert “Radio” Kennedy Was Inducted Into the T.L. Hanna Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016

James Robert “Radio” Kennedy was inducted into the T.L. Hanna Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. He was inducted during the halftime show of a Friday night football game.

An anouncer described him as the team’s “head cheerleader and assistant coach.”

“Radio has always been the number one supporter of all teams at T.L. Hanna… he has brought attention to special needs and to T.L. Hanna,” the announcer said.

School officials described Radio as “having a permanent smile and always willing to show compassion to others,” according to WREG in Memphis.

You can watch a video of the induction ceremony here.

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