T.L. Hanna High School football legend James "Radio" Kennedy passed away on Sunday morning, according to a report by local NBC News affiliate WYFF4. Kennedy was a beloved figure in the community and in the world of sports at large, known for the movie Radio made about him in 2003. He reportedly suffered from pancreatitis, diabetes and various kidney issues.
Kennedy passed away in Anderson County, South Carolina, in a facility called Hospice of the Upstate, according to his niece, Jackie Kennedy. She had been caring for him along with the help of his nurses. He was reportedly taken into hospice care on Saturday afternoon, passing away less than 24 hours later.
Kennedy's story became widely-known in 2003 when he was played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the movie Radio. It told the story of how he learned to communicate effectively through the hand signals and commands the football coaches at his local high school used.
"At that time, he was a teenager, with a transistor radio seemingly attached to his ear, who could barely speak and had never learned to read or write," wrote former T.L. Hanna High Principal Sheila Hilton. "He was nicknamed Radio by the coaches and players. He became a fixture at football practices, standing passively and watching, until one day when he began to mimic the coaches’ signals and tried his hand at yelling out commands."
"At that point, he could have been labeled a distraction and sent away. But he was not," she noted. "The coaches embraced him, and as coaches came and went, someone would always take over in caring for him."
The movie takes a more dramatic look at Kennedy's life, depicting an incident where the high school football team actually abuses the older man. In one scene, they tie him up and lock him inside a gear shed, leaving him there to his fate. He is discovered by the coach, Harold Jones (Ed Harris) who befriends him.
So sad to hear the news of Radio Passing away this morning!! So glad I was able to get this picture with him when we played Hanna! RIP Radio! pic.twitter.com/jMi5M3vTLo— Scott Farmer (@ScottFarmer5) December 15, 2019
The movie ends with the partially-fictionalized Radio earning his high school diploma in his mid-20s, and bringing his whole community together. In real life, Kennedy remained an active part of the T.L. Hanna High School football community, as evidenced by some of the recent tributes to him on social media.
On Sunday morning, many people posted photos of a smiling Kennedy on the football field over the years, including recent shots. He stood by coaches and players for photo opportunities, continuing to serve as an inspiration to this day.