'Radio' Kennedy, Focus of SI 1996 Feature, Inspiration for 2003 Film, Dies At 73

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James Radio Kennedy Dies

In 1996, Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith wrote about the close friendship that James "Radio" Kennedy, a man with an intellectual disability, had with members of a high school football team in South Carolina. The story eventually became the inspiration for the 2003 film "Radio." 

On Sunday morning, "Radio" Kennedy, the man integral to the Anderson, SC. community, died, T.L. Hanna High School announced.

Kennedy, 73, had been battling health problems and former head football coach Harold Jones said that he died at a hospice facility in Anderson.

"It's sad. It's very sad for us," Jones said. "Everybody loved him at the school and anybody he met loved him. He was just so outgoing and loved to hug you."

Kennedy earned the nickname "Radio" in the mid-1960s when he began to show up at Hanna's football field with a transistor radio, according to Sheila Hilton, the former principal at Hanna.

Coaches, players, students and the community came to him and he took on duties as assistant coach, cheerleader and halftime performer. 

Despite not being able to read or write, Kennedy took classes at the high school, a junior in perpetuity so that he would not graduate.

"The stories could fill the pages of a lengthy book, each showing the child-like innocence and loving heart that existed within him," the school said in its release. "It would be easy to talk about all the school did for Radio, but the miraculous thing about this story is what Radio did for the school. 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."

The school unveiled a bronze life-sized statue of Kennedy at its football stadium in 2006. He was inducted into the T.L. Hanna Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

You can read Smith's 1996 feature on "Radio" Kennedy here.