In late 2016, I was given an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas to attend and photograph the world-famous SEMA show. I had a fat per diem, a fancy hotel room, and a 2016 Mustang to drive around in for four days. How I didn’t end up on an episode of Cops is both a mystery and a blessing because I went absolutely wild that weekend.
SEMA itself, was alright. I’m not a car guy and I don’t watch reality TV so 98% of the celebrities were strangers to me and one guy was racing legend, Richard Petty. I was completely let down until I found none other than R. Lee Ermey on the second floor of the convention center.
For me and most America, Ermey was best known for being the most sadistic drill sergeant ever portrayed in film. He pretty much played the same character in every movie and TV show because he was damn good at it. For me, his role stuck in my memory because I watched ‘Full Metal Jacket’ at 8 years of age.
All autographs at SEMA were free, unlike the greed that takes place at comic book conventions. When it was my turn to walk up to Mr. Ermey, I was shocked to see how tall he was. He also looked very healthy. I can only imagine how imposing he was way back in 1987 when he filmed his most famous roll.
Before he could say anything, I told him I didn’t want a poster or an autograph but simply wanted to thank him for his work and that I had been a fan of much of it growing up, including his hilarious and somewhat dark turn in the comedy ‘Saving Silverman’. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
R. Lee thanked me for my support, pulled out a poster, signed it, and even rolled it up and put a rubber band on it for me. The entire time, he had a smile on his face and was nothing like the douchebag celebrities I met at SEMA, like Richard Rawlings, of the TV show, Fast and Loud.
As it turns out, while I did have a great time in Vegas … I ended up getting stiffed on my paycheck. Sure, everything was paid for, except for my hard work. At the end of the day, I was lucky to meet one of my childhood nightmares and the man behind one of the most iconic characters of all-time.
Below is one of the photos I snapped of R. Lee Ermey at SEMA 2016, just 16 months before his untimely death. As of writing this, it appears that Ermey has no official certified autographs in trading card form but he has hundreds of signed posters for those in the market. As for mine, it is now one of my treasured pieces.
Thank you for the memories, Sergeant Hartman.