James Kennedy, The Man Who Inspired the Movie RADIO, Dies at 73

Photo courtesy of Anderson School District

James Kennedy, The Man Who Inspired RADIO, Dies at 73

By Jessilyn Lancaster, Managing Editor

James Kennedy, the man who inspired the main character in the movie RADIO, died over the weekend. He was 73.

“He was without a Harvard degree or Pulitzer Prize or professional sports contract, but his fame surpassed all those accolades,” former T.L. Hanna High School principal Sheila Hilton eulogized on Facebook. “And the story is simple: love and compassion can change lives. It has changed his, and, in return, he has changed ours. And we are better people for having known him.”

Many people may recognize Kennedy’s story from the movie RADIO, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. Kennedy was nicknamed “Radio” because he always carried the instrument with him.

RADIO is a redemptive story about a mentally handicapped man nicknamed Radio who is befriended by the coach of the local high school football team, Harold Jones. (The great ending may bring tears to your eyes, but RADIO takes a while to get going and contains some gratuitous foul language.)

READ the full RADIO review here.

Yet the movie only showed a portion of Kennedy’s kind demeanor.

“The other 80% that people who never met him didn’t see, they’d have loved that, too,” said Josh Allen, Kennedy’s great nephew.

Kennedy was basically a fixture at Hanna football practices and games, Hilton said.

“Radio was the heart and soul of T.L. Hanna for over 50 years, and the impact he made in our community can’t be overstated. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the countless lives he touched,” said Kyle Newton, a spokesman for Anderson School District 5.

Hilton elaborated more on Kennedy’s legacy in the community.

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. What a lesson there is to be learned here. How many lost souls could be saved with a little care and attention? The thousands of students who have made their way through the halls of T. L. Hanna over the years have seen the results of the love and caring given to Radio. He had a permanent smile on his face. He was never without his ability to shake hands and hug necks. He returned exponentially whatever love was given to him. And here the irony rests. He gave back much more than he received.

The Independent Mail reports that Kennedy remained a community fixture throughout the last few years.

As long as his health permitted, Kennedy remained a fixture in the community. Just days before Christmas 2016, when he heard that the Salvation Army was struggling to raise money during its holiday kettle campaign, he and Jones stood together in the bitter cold for hours outside Sam’s Club on Liberty Highway.

“I’m trying to stay warm,” Kennedy said then, “and help folks if I can.”

Their efforts that day — as hundreds stopped for photos with “Radio” and then donated to the kettle — helped sustain the Salvation Army’s work for weeks. …

“His story is amazing,” Dawkins said. “How someone like Radio at that time — he was challenged, and he touched a lot of people’s lives. He was still having fun.”

Kennedy didn’t talk much unless you got him going about local sports, but his smile was infectious and he was always a kind man, Dawkins said.

“So many people loved him,” said Kennedy’s niece and caregiver, Jackie Kennedy.

Please pray for Kennedy’s family as they mourn his loss.

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