By the 1980s, Kelly was in movies only rarely; he turned his attention to tennis and became a ranked professional player on the USTA senior men's circuit. Since then he's divided his time between athletic and business pursuits, practically disappearing from view except for a 2004 Nike TV commercial with NBA star LeBron James titled "Chamber of Fear," a pastiche of kung fu movie tropes.
His prolonged absence seems to have enhanced his icon status rather than diminished it, however.
"Jim Kelly was gone for so long, some people thought he was dead," said David Walker, co-author of "Reflections on Blaxploitation." When Kelly appeared at Comic-Con International in San Diego last summer, "everybody went nuts when they found out he was there because he's a true living legend, and there's still a mystique about him," Walker said.
Added Hudlin: "The iconography that Jim Kelly established as the cool martial artist with the giant 'fro resonates to this day. If within only a few films you can create an image that lasts over 30 years, you must have done something really right. And he did."
Kelly has attended a few other events to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. Still physically fit, he doesn't rule out another action movie role, either.