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James "Radio" Kennedy, staple of South Carolina high school football team who inspired 2003 film, has died

James "Radio" Kennedy has died at 73

James "Radio" Kennedy, known as a bright light in Anderson, South Carolina, died Sunday at the age of 73, CBS affiliate WSPA-TV reports. Kennedy was a staple on the T.L. Hanna football field for more than 50 years, and his life inspired the 2003 film "Radio."

Kennedy first showed up on the field as a teenager in the 1960s. He had a disability, and would hold a transistor radio to his ear — hence the nickname. He would often mimic the coaches on the sidelines, but instead of being a distraction, Kennedy was embraced by the school.

JAMES ROBERT "RADIO" KENNEDY, VINNIE DILL
James Robert "Radio" Kennedy hugs T.L. Hanna teacher Vinnie Dill after he arrived at a screening of the movie "Radio," based on his life, on October 23, 2003, in Anderson, South Carolina. Mary Ann Chastain / AP

He could barely speak and never learned how to read or write, according to WSPA. But soon, Kennedy became a fixture in the school community. He would stand on the sidelines at football practices and games, and T.L. Hanna football became his life's legacy.

While coaches came and went, Kennedy was a constant. One coach, Harold Jones, took him under his wing, and their relationship served as the inspiration behind the 2003 film, "Radio." Cuba Gooding Jr. played a young Kennedy and Ed Harris played the football coach.

Aside from inspiring a Hollywood film, Kennedy also inspired those who knew him.

"The community, they just love Radio," Coach Jones told WSPA in 2016, during Kennedy's 70th birthday celebration. "I mean, everybody loves Radio."

McDougald Funeral Home in Anderson announced Kennedy passed away surrounded by family on Sunday. Services will be held at T.L. Hanna High School on December 20 and the following day at Civic Center of Anderson, according to the funeral home.

Kennedy had been hospitalized ahead of his passing, WSPA reports. Former T.L. Hanna principal Sheila Hilton wrote about the local legend when news of his death broke.

"Generations of Hanna students and faculty had an opportunity to know Radio," Hilton wrote. "Everyone has a story to tell, some of them priceless — his eating a cooler full of sandwiches that had been made for the team and stored safely on the bus; his pass-kick-and-throw half-time shows; his permanent status as a junior, with no threat of graduation; and his astounding ability to name the mascot of any team in the state."

"The stories could fill the pages of a lengthy book, each showing the child-like innocence and loving heart that existed within him," Hilton's statement continued. 

Hilton also noted that Kennedy is "arguably the most famous person to come out of Anderson," with publications like Sports Illustrated, Readers' Digest, ESPN, and CBS News telling his story.

Even after his passing, Kennedy's spirit lives on in Anderson and among people nationwide who saw his story.

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