‘Turkish Rambo’ B-movie actor and bodybuilder Serdar Kebapçılar passes away at 65

Serdar Kebapçılar rose to fame on the big screen in the 1980s, starring in several Sylvester Stallone rip-offs directed by cult filmmaker Çetin İnanç.

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Actor and bodybuilder Serdar Kebapçılar, also known as ‘’Turkish Rambo’’, passed away at the age of 65, fellow actor Osman Avcı announced on his social account on March 24.

Born in 1958 in the Aegean province of İzmir, Kebapçılar etched his name in the annals of Turkish cinema during the “Turksploitation era” in the 1980s.

This period was marked by a cinematic frenzy of rip-off Hollywood blockbusters as the 1980s coup ushered in stringent restrictions on cinema that ended Turkey’s “golden age of cinema,” also known as the Yeşilçam era.

After a successful bodybuilding career, placing sixth in the world bodybuilding championship in 1978, Kebapçılar’s ‘’flawless body’’ caught the eye of cult director Çetin İnanç when he entered his gym.

Kebapçılar was a frequent customer at İnanç’s home video shop in İzmir, which the director opened when local cinema started struggling against the rise of home video.

In the years prior, İnanç had achieved stardom by directing dozens of low-budget films, such as ‘’The Man Who Saved the World’’ (Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam), referred to today as ‘’Turkish Star Wars.’’

The film blended locally shot scenes with “borrowed footage” from the original Star Wars, as allegedly a storm destroyed all their outdoor spaceship sets.

İnanç saw potential in Kebapçılar, catapulting the athlete from pumping iron to pumping out lines on the big screen in the 1985 film ‘’Black Lightning’’ (Kara Şimşek).

Turkey’s first boxing film, heavily reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky”, was shot in around one to one-and-half months and swiftly topped the charts, according to Kebapçılar.

A year following the Rocky copy, Kebapçılar collaborated again with İnanç to portray a Turkish commando tasked with infiltrating a bandit-ridden mountain to rescue a kidnapped businessman in the action film “Rampage” (Korkusuz). A plotline strongly resembling Stallone’s hit film, “Rambo: First Blood Part II”.

However, while these movies drew inspiration from Hollywood blockbusters, they were not mere copies, according to Kebapçılar. Instead, they adapted them to Turkey’s “own culture.”

Rampage garnered a cult following over the years, with clips circulating the internet, showing Kebapçılar breaking a wall while beating the air and blowing up “bad guys” with a clearly fake bazooka.

‘’It was somewhat simple, but… it worked,’’ Kebapçılar later remarked about the rocket launcher. 

The film was re-released with English dubs in 2009.

Kebapçılar appeared in two more films by İnanç before the director essentially halted filmmaking in 1986.

With İnanç out, Kebapçılar’s screen presence dwindled, as he only wanted to pursue ‘’leading roles’’.

However, when these roles didn’t materialize, he was forced to take ‘’a long break,’’ he explained in a 2009 interview. 

While never giving hope to returning to the cinema one day, Kebapçılar started to focus on his gym in the meantime in his hometown İzmir.

Yet, according to a 2012 interview, financial woes compelled Kebapçılar to sell off his gym and forced the father of two to reside back with his mother while grappling with health issues that left him severely immobile.

(English version by Wouter Massink)