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Home Jim Kelly Honored by Grandmaster Eric”Lionman” O’Neal

Jim Kelly Honored by Grandmaster Eric”Lionman” O’Neal


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Grandmaster Eric “LIONMAN” O’Neal, a 7-Time USKA World Karate Champion and 2-time Gold Medalist, led an intimate gathering of family and friends in a moving tribute to a fellow legend – Grandmaster Jim “The Dragon” Kelly, who passed away last month from cancer. The special memorial tribute was open to the public and truly celebrated the life of a karate master and mentor, actor and beloved member of the martial arts community, featuring appearances by many of the community’s luminaries.

 This past Saturday afternoon at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, joy mingled with tears as Kelly’s colleagues and only daughter, Sabrena Kelly-Lewis reminisced and remembered a great man.

“It was very heartwarming to be in the company of dedicated fans, people who worked with my Father, idolized and befriended him. It was very uplifting to hear so many people tell me how much my Father impacted them in a positive manner,” expressed Sabrena Kelly-Lewis (her first time speaking in public).  “I’d like to thank Grandmaster Eric O’Neal Sr., and all that was involved in my Father’s tribute, for making it such a memorable event.  My Father would have been pleased.  He was the first African-American martial artist to become a movie star.  He lived a life above reproach and he was one of the earliest role models for the young African-American males. Considering all that he accomplished, his legacy can not be tarnished!”

 Moving remarks were also made by the community’s brightest including Bob Wall (Enter the Dragon), Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson (Three the Hard Way), Ernie Singleton (Former President of MCA Records), Herbert Jefferson, Jr. (Galactica 1980), Gloria Hendry (Black Belt Jones), Freda Payne (Chart-topping Singer/Actress), 5-time World Kickboxing Champion GrandMaster Robert ParhamArt CamachoEric Chen (Impact Stunts), Dr Frank DeGourville, and others.

“It’s an honor to celebrate a man who meant so much to so many,” said Grandmaster O’Neal.  “Jim was a true talent, and he shared that talent to inspire others – not just to excel at what they do, but to excel at who they are — as human beings.  He was my mentor — someone I looked up to growing up in the projects. He showed me, and so many others, that you can aspire to greatness and achieve greatness.”

 Kelly was an avid competitor, winning the Middleweight title at the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1971. From there, he caught the attention of Bruce Lee and John Saxon and brought his karate skills to films like Enter the Dragon and many others including Black Belt JonesThe Black SamuraiThree The Hard Way and The Tattoo Connection.  Kelly was also a professionally ranked tennis player and coach. In 2004, he starred with LeBron James in a Nike commercial.

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