Born in Emporia, Kansas, on March 24, 1944, Ermey was raised with five brothers on a farm outside of Kansas City, Kansas. In 1958, he and his family left Kansas and moved to Toppenish, Washington. As a teenager, he often got in trouble with local authorities, and was been arrested twice for criminal mischief by age 17. After his second arrest, in 1961, the judge gave him a choice between joining the military or being sent to jail; he chose the military.
Ermey enlisted in the Marine Corps and went through recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in San Diego, California. For his first few years, he served in the aviation support field before becoming a drill instructor in India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, where he was assigned from 1965 to 1967.
Ermey then served in Marine Wing Support Group 17 at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, Japan. In 1968, he was ordered to Vietnam with MWSG-17, and spent 14 months in the country. The remainder of his service was in Okinawa where he was promoted to staff sergeant and medically discharged in 1972 because of several injuries incurred during his service.
Ermey was cast in his first film while attending the University of Manila in the Philippines, using his G.I. Bill benefits. He played a First Air Cavalry chopper pilot in Apocalypse Now, doubling as a technical advisor to director Francis Ford Coppola. Ermey then was cast as a Marine drill instructor in Sidney Furie‘s The Boys In Company C. For the next few years, he played a series of minor film roles until 1987, when he was cast as drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket.
Initially, he was intended to be only the technical advisor. Kubrick changed his mind after Ermey put together an instructional tape, in which he went on an extended rant towards several extras, convincing Kubrick that he was the right man for the role. Seeking absolute military authenticity for the film, Kubrick allowed Ermey to write and edit his own dialogue and even improvise on the set, a notable rarity in a Kubrick film. Kubrick later indicated that Ermey was an excellent performer, often needing just two or three takes per scene, also unusual for a Kubrick film.
Ermey’s performance won critical raves and he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor. He later played a drill instructor in the pilot episode of Space: Above and Beyond and the ghost of a drill instructor in the film The Frighteners, both similar to his character in Full Metal Jacket.
Ermey has since appeared in about 60 films, including Purple Hearts, Mississippi Burning, The Siege of Firebase Gloria, Dead Man Walking, Seven, Fletch Lives, Leaving Las Vegas, Prefontaine, Saving Silverman, On Deadly Ground, Sommersby, Life, Man of the House, Toy Soldiers, and The Salton Sea, as well as the remakes of Willard and as an evil sadist in the two The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films.
Ermey also lent his voice to The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3, as well as Roughnecks and X-Men 3. He usually appears in a commanding military role, for shows such as Kim Possible, The Simpsons, Family Guy, SpongeBob SquarePants, Miami Vice, House, Scrubs, My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Invader Zim, in addition to hosting the documentary series Mail Call and Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey.
Ermey lended his voice to several video games, including Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (as General Barnaky) and Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex (as Wa-Wa). He also made a cameo in Real War: Air, Land, Sea, a retail real-time strategy computer game based on the official Joint Chiefs of Staff training game. In 2014, he did voice-over work for Call of Duty: Ghosts.
On May 17, 2002, Ermey received an honorary post-service promotion to gunnery sergeant from the Commandant of the Marine Corps General James L. Jones in recognition of his continuing support to Americans in military service; becoming the first retiree in the history of the Marine Corps to be promoted.
He has also conducted morale tours visiting troops in locations such as Al Kut, Iraq, and Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in which he filmed parts for his television show Mail Call. While at Bagram Airfield, he held a USO-type show in which he portrayed GySgt Hartman and conducted a comedy routine. He also did the same at Doha, Qatar and Camp Doha, Kuwait City, Kuwait, in 2003.
He is also the official celebrity spokesperson of the youth organization, Young Marines .
You can join his email list by visiting http://www.rleeermey.com