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Oscar-winner George Kennedy dies at 91

Last Updated Feb 29, 2016 7:36 PM EST

"Naked Gun" and "Cool Hand Luke" star George Kennedy passed away Sunday at his home in Boise, Idaho, his son Cory Schenkel confirmed. Kennedy was 91.

Best remembered as a tough-guy character actor in westerns and disaster films, Kennedy won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in "Cool Hand Luke" opposite Paul Newman in 1968.

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George Kennedy in a still from the 1967 film "Cool Hand Luke," distributed by Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Other notable film appearances included "Charade," "Thunderbolt & Lightfoot," "the Eiger Sanction," "Airport 1975," "Earthquake" and the comic "Naked Gun" films alongside Leslie Nielsen. His final film role was opposite Mark Wahlberg in 2014's "The Gambler."

"Movies have been my favorite entertainment," Kennedy said in a 2013 interview with CBS affiliate KBOI. "And for me to have ended up in that business is perhaps the most fortunate thing to ever happen to me."

Though he came from a show-bizzy family, thanks to a mom who performed as a ballerina in vaudeville-style productions, and a father who was an orchestra leader, Kennedy's path to Hollywood wasn't assured, KBOI wrote.

Kennedy spent 16 years in the Army and left as a captain.

In fact, that he got into acting at all was more by accident than design.

He started out after high school like so many his age by joining the Army. Afterward, with no job prospects, Kennedy re-enlisted as a staff sergeant and found himself in Officer Candidate School. And in turn that led to a stint in Armed Forces Radio.

It was there he was involved in setting up the first Army Information Office, providing technical assistance to movies and television shows. It was in that capacity that he worked on the early sitcom, "Sergeant Bilko." Small speaking roles soon came his way.

KBOI wrote that Kennedy slowly built a resume that earned him callbacks from casting directors eager to take advantage of his athletic frame and booming voice.

Kennedy was born in New York in 1925. He started acting at the age of 2 when he joined a touring company production of "Bringing up Father."

After his Army stint, Kennedy made his television debut in "The Phil Silvers Show" in 1955 and had a variety of guest appearances in the Westerns "Have Gun, Will Travel," ''Cheyenne" and "Gunsmoke."

His film career began to take flight in the early 1960s. He starred in 1963's "Charade," a whodunit that features Kennedy, Cary Grant, James Coburn and Walter Matthau seeking out the $250,000 they suspect was left behind by Audrey Hepburn's dead husband.

His other acting credits in the 1960s included "The Dirty Dozen" and "Guns of the Magnificent Seven."

Kennedy once called "Charade" the favorite movie in which he appeared.

"It had Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, music by Henry Mancini; it was shot entirely in Paris," he said in 1995. "I have nothing but wonderful memories."

Kennedy, an avid reader, also dabbled in writing and published a couple of murder mysteries.

Schenkel remembered sitting in on an autograph session in London with his grandfather.

"I sat behind him for hours that day watching the hundreds of fans in line waiting to meet my grandpa," Schenkel recalled. "At the end of the day we sat in our hotel room eating room service and he said to me, 'Seeing all those people I was able to bring a little enjoyment and happiness into their life -- That is why I did it.'"

In later years, Kennedy became an advocate for adopted children. He had four adopted children, including his granddaughter Taylor, whose mother, also adopted by Kennedy, had become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

"Don't let the fact that you're 77 or 70 get in your way. Don't let the fact that you're a single parent and you want to adopt get in your way," Kennedy said in a Fox interview in 2002. "That kid, some place right now, cold and wet, needs somebody to say, "I love you, kid, good night.'"

News of his passing was first reported by TMZ.