James "Radio" Kennedy, a man with an intellectual disability who befriended a high school football team in South Carolina and was the inspiration for the 2003 film "Radio," died Sunday morning, former T.L. Hanna football coach Harold Jones confirmed.
Kennedy, who had been battling health problems, was 73. Jones said Kennedy died at a hospice facility in Anderson, South Carolina.
"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."
According to Jones, Kennedy first showed up at football practices at a middle school in Anderson in the mid-1960s. He started going to Hanna High in the early 1970s, usually holding a transistor radio to his ear and pushing his belongings in a shopping cart.
Kennedy liked to mimic the coaches on the sideline, gesturing and yelling at players. Instead of kicking Kennedy out of practice, Jones and the other coaches befriended him. Jones and his wife, Linda, helped care for Kennedy over the past five decades.
Sportswriter Gary Smith wrote about their friendship in a Sports Illustrated feature in 1996, which led to a Hollywood film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Radio.
Kennedy was an "unofficial" junior at T.L. Hanna High School -- the highest grade he could finish without having to graduate and leave -- and rode the bus to and from school. He took special-education classes, worked in the cafeteria and served as a team manager and assistant coach at football games.
Jones said Kennedy had been living with his niece, Jackie Kennedy, and younger brother, George Kennedy, known as "Cool Rock."
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.
"He's an icon as far as we're concerned," Jones said. "He's been loved all over -- not just in Anderson and the state but all over the country."