Leon Isaac Kennedy is already in the history books as a creative pioneer in radio – TV and movies.
His trailblazing broke down barriers.
Today many more doors and opportunities are open for minorities in front of and behind the camera. Additionally, many more opportunities are enjoyed by African Americans, Hispanics and Women in all of today’s media. – But it was Kennedy, the kid with a dream from Cleveland, with no help from agents, managers, or any support system, who opened many of those doors.
Leon is a child of the media – one of the rare few, creatively blessed to write, produce and perform in all aspects of radio, television and movies.
Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, while some inner city kids were taking drugs and getting involved with gangs, Leon was only 15 years old when he sounded crazy to some of his friends for announcing — that he had decided to be a Movie Star! Writer! Producer!
Even at age 15, knowing how to dare to dream and overcome reality, Kennedy realized there was not much opportunity for Blacks. So he formulated a plan. “I’ll be a disc jockey… then become a big time air personality … then get my own television show … then do movies!”
Immediately working on his plan, by the time he was 16 Leon made history by becoming one of the youngest disc jockeys in a top ten market.
Still working on “his plan” Leon had his first TV show “Teen-A-Rama” by age 19.
Leon was promoted from Teen Weekend DJ in Cleveland, Ohio – to full time in an even bigger market, Detroit – Motown!
It was in The Motor City that Leon started to become a radio legend as Leon The Lover!
Almost 45 years later fans still ask about Leon The Lover and his classic Leon’s Lover’s Lane! Some say it was his voice, others say the poems he personally wrote – to go with his theme song and slow jams as Leon sometimes charmed – sometimes made them cry – certainly made them tune in.
As recently as Berry Gordy’s Motown Musical opening, while exchanging hugs legendary performer, Gladys Knight reminisced how she and her cousins, The Pips – would sit out on their front porch – and listen. It was like every house – every car radio – was listening to Leon The Lover!
Leon reminisced, what better place for a young teen to grow up as a top disc jockey than The Motor City?
While others my age were just beginning college, I was friends with all of the Motown Legends.
When Leon made personal appearances or played records at a club – lines for entrance circled around the block. Modestly Leon laughs, “It wasn’t just to see me; on any given night – Dennis Edwards or the great David Ruffin from The Temptations might sing and my dear friend, Stevie Wonder – judged Leon’s Pretty Leg Contest. Living and DJ’ing in Motown I made lifelong friends in a slice of time and history that can never be replicated.”
Still pursuing his dream Leon moved onto Washington, D.C. doing both radio and television.
The wonderful Businesswoman and Entrepreneur, TV One’s Cathy Hughes remarked, “Leon, with his great talents and Lover’s Lane, took Black radio to a higher level of class and talent.”
Leon next took on Houston, Texas wherein he hooked up with one of his mentors and great friends, Disc Jockey Extraordinaire, Mike Payne.
Not content to be just an on the air personality, Leon with Mike – Wrote – Produced and Co-Hosted “Outta Sight”!
Leon was the driving force that syndicated this “Laugh In” type comedy show. Think of “In Living Color”, only 20 years earlier.
Always the pioneer, Leon again made history. Prior to “Soul Train” it was Leon with “Outta Sight” that had the nation’s first Black Syndicated TV Show.
His last stop as a disc jockey – Hollywood! Yes, still following his plan, Leon had worked his way to The City of Dreams! Now it was time to do other things!
• Chips – I was cast as a Regular – but left the show when the movies hit.
• The Hitchhiker – Leon remembers this one because he starred with Gene Simmons, from “Kiss” fame.
• Off The Minnesota Strip – A TV Movie of the Week – Starring Mare Winningham – Hal Holbrook – Guest Starring Leon Isaac Kennedy
• Numerous other appearances
Writing and Producing
Leon values his Writing and Producing skills as much as in front of the camera experiences.
• 90 Tonight Show – was the youngest Writer-Producer for KNBC.
• My Buddy – Co-wrote and Co-produced ABC Television Pilot for Top Star, Redd Foxx.
• Numerous other credits
By age 25, Leon was producing Major Motion Pictures. Leon has written and/or starred in and produced such major classics as “Penitentiary I”, “II” and “III”; “Body and Soul” with Muhammad Ali and Jayne Kennedy; “Lone Wolfe McQuade” with Chuck Norris, and many others. Leon’s films have generated Hundreds of Millions of Dollars and still play constantly around the world.
Known for his classic action flicks, Leon is known as a Pioneer in Independent Filmmaking.
Leon is looked upon as a Filmmaker’s Icon. One of Hollywood’s First Minorities to take a project from the Idea Stage – Script It – Raise the Financing – Produce and Star in the Project.
Kennedy explains, “It’s not that I’m so talented; it’s what I had to do just to be able to generate work. Back then, there was no luxury or opportunity of being able to go from film to film as there is now – so I generated my own.
Unlike many Hollywood products, Leon was not a manufactured studio star. He created his own product, his own image – his own good!
However, if Kennedy had no creative talents, he’d still have to be considered a major force in the industry due to his proven abilities for making money – promoting products – and being able to bypass agents and managers by having direct access to key industry talents.
To fund his various film projects, Kennedy had to not only be creative, but learn and provide financing. To raise financing Kennedy was one of the First Minority Filmmakers to travel to the Cannes and Mifed Film Festivals – and was one of the few Minorities there at the inception of the American Film Market.
He traveled throughout the world to countries such as Russia – China – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, etc. – and was one of the first Minorities to deal directly with the Foreign Film Buyers – thus dispelling the myth that Black Films have no overseas commercial value.
As a result of his initiative and pioneering efforts, Kennedy’s Films have played in virtually every country in the world and opened many doors for today’s Minority Filmmakers.
Once cast as “Martel Gordone” (Too Sweet) in “Penitentiary” by Jamaa Fanaka, Kennedy became an immediate bona fide star. Fan magazines named him, along with John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, and others … “Box office Stars of the 80’s”. And Box Office Sex Symbol –for three consecutive years.
“Penitentiary” was the number one independent film of the year! “Penitentiary”, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy was not the number one Black film, but number one independent film period! An amazing feat from minority filmmakers.
Kennedy and “Penitentiary” broke box office records all across the country. Back then ticket prices were $3.00 and in some Black theatres 99¢. In today’s market — Penitentiary represents a $80 million film done for less than $500,000!
The “Penitentiary” series has become a cult classic. They still play continuously worldwide!
When “Penitentiary” was released there were very few Black films playing. The so-called Black Exploitation era had been over for years, thus very few Black films were financed, much less receiving distribution.
Studio’s, distributors, and movie exhibitors follow “the green”. “Penitentiary’s” success forced open the doors for minority financing and distribution and gave minority actors, writers and directors inspiration that they too could have success!
See Filmography Page for more info on Leon’s Movies.
For a complete list of credits – visit Leon’s imdb page - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0411531/
Honoring his various entrepreneurial efforts, Kennedy was inducted into the Entrepreneur’s Hall of Fame.
One of Kennedy’s most recent Entrepreneurial Successes was creating a Brand Company for the Legendary Smokey Robinson. The successful Smokey Robinson Foods was placed in over 3,500 stores – and was the first minority food company to be taken national by the billion dollar food chains, Albertsons and Safeway.
Leon, not only came up with the idea and Star, but raised the million plus dollars and most importantly, found the distributors for marketing the product.
Kennedy is credited with not only forging his own career – but also helping to be a guiding force and helping to build his former wife, Jayne Kennedy into becoming, not just a Star – but a household name.
Kennedy reflects, “as individuals, and collectively, Jayne and I have been termed Pioneers and Minority Icons. As a young couple we worked hard together, broke down a lot of barriers, set a variety of high goals and realized them!”
Jayne was not only talented, but had good instincts. On set, I always checked with her as to whether she thought it was a good take or not. I always thought she’d make a great director.
She is not only beautiful on the outside – but even more so within. I am grateful for our years of love and marriage. I’m thankful for the love and friendship in the 30 plus years of post-marriage. Being friends with her husband, Bill and watching her children grow into accomplished young ladies.
On numerous Radio and TV Shows and in Print – Smokey has credited “his brother” and one of his best friends, Leon with saving his life! Paraphrasing, Smokey stated something like, “I was really out there thinking I was having fun doing the drug thing – had wasted down to nothing. Couldn’t have lasted much longer. God sent Leon to get me. He prayed for me all night and then took me to Dr. Jean Perez’s Ablaze Ministry. I was prayed on – set free – got a miracle! No withdrawals – no cravings – just totally free!
Leon responds – “Smokey’s been a best friend and brother since I was 15 years old. How tragic it would have been for this truly beautiful soul to leave here prematurely – before being honored as a Kennedy Center Honoree – Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and all the other honors that finally came with time – acknowledging him as a True Icon and National Treasure.
Thank God that for all of us, there is a God, of a thousand second chances!”
The Spiritual Journey
While on top of his game Leon left Hollywood – stopped writing – producing – acting – and went on a spiritual journey. –
Kennedy, the international star, was not seen on a Hollywood movie lot – but instead was discovered speaking, devoting his time to visiting detention centers, drug rehab centers, homes for unwed mothers, churches and hundreds of prisons.
Kennedy explains: “I’ve never done drugs – nothing tragic had occurred in my life – God has always blessed me. Yet, so many people were going down the drain of drugs – gangs – hopelessness and despair; there was a tug of God on my life. It was just time to give something back.”
We teach and try to help people to know “Who and What” they really are. – Once they realize – their “God Given Uniqueness” and “Inner Greatness” – it becomes easier to break The Old Habits – “Cycles” and “Wrong Ways of Thinking and Doing” that has held them back.
Leon states that this Ministry of Helps will always be my number 1 priority.
He continuously speaks all across the nation and the world helping others to gain economic freedom and be set free in every area of life.
Leon’s been away from the Hollywood scene for over a decade – however, in the past several years Leon has felt a release – to re-enter the creative arena.
He’s written, produced and directed 4 major documentaries. – He describes them as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. – Leon states that through these documentaries we celebrate the accomplishments of these individuals and families. –
Now ready to reposition himself as a major Film Writer and Producer– Leon has formed his movie production company – written 2 scripts and optioned 3 other scripts and books.
Leon concludes, I enjoy the creative process. I now see it as a platform to help us gather the people and resources to do other things. A great percentage of our profits will go to feed and shelter the homeless.
There are a lot of people out there that are not drunks or addicts – good people that have caught a bad break. Outsourced and downsized – lost their job and now out in the streets. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Leon can be reached through his “Kennedy Healing Love Foundation” at: www.khlm.org
All images of and work herein copyright 2013 Leon Isaac Kennedy. No reproduction without permission. All Rights Reserved.