I was so shocked to read today that actor David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series Kung Fu and a wide-ranging career in the movies, had been found dead in the Thai capital, Bangkok. A news report said he was found hanged in his hotel room and was believed to have committed suicide.
In a very recent interview he said to reporters about his latest movie with Rip Torn, “It’s time to do nothing but look forward.” I wonder what could have happened to make him take his own life.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, confirmed the death of the 72-year-old actor. He said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday, but he could not provide further details out of consideration for his family.
Carradine was a leading member of a venerable Hollywood acting family that included his father, legendary character actor John Carradine (Stagecoach), and Oscar-winning brother Keith (Nashville).
In all, he appeared in more than 100 feature films with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby. One of his prominent early film roles was as singer Woody Guthrie in Ashby’s 1976 biopic Bound for Glory.
But he was best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest traveling the 1800s American frontier West in the TV series Kung Fu, which aired in 1972-75.
He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine’s grandson in the 1990s syndicated series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.
He returned to the top in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part saga Kill Bill.
The character, the worldly father figure of a pack of crack assassins, was a shadowy presence in 2003’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1. In that film, one of Bill’s former assassins (Uma Thurman) begins a vengeful rampage against her old associates.
In Kill Bill — Vol. 2, released in 2004, Thurman’s character comes face to face again with Bill himself. The role brought Carradine a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.
Bill was a complete contrast to his TV character Kwai Chang Caine, the soft-spoken refugee from a Shaolin monastery, serenely spreading wisdom and battling bad guys in the Old West. He left after three seasons, saying the show had started to repeat itself.
After Kung Fu, Carradine starred in the 1975 cult flick Death Race 2000. He starred with Liv Ullmann in Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg in 1977 and with his brothers in the 1980 Western The Long Riders. Tarantino’s films changed that.
“All I’ve ever needed since I more or less retired from studio films a couple of decades ago … is just to be in one,” Carradine told The Associated Press in 2004.
“There isn’t anything that Anthony Hopkins or Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery or any of those old guys are doing that I couldn’t do,” he said. “All that was ever required was somebody with Quentin’s courage to take and put me in the spotlight.”
One thing remained a constant after Kung Fu : Carradine’s interest in Oriental herbs, exercise and philosophy. He wrote a personal memoir called Spirit of Shaolin and continued to make instructional videos on tai chi and other martial arts.
In the 2004 interview, Carradine talked candidly about his past boozing and narcotics use, but said he had put all that behind him and stuck to coffee and cigarettes.
“I didn’t like the way I looked, for one thing. You’re kind of out of control emotionally when you drink that much. I was quicker to anger.”
“You’re probably witnessing the last time I will ever answer those questions,” Carradine said. “Because this is a regeneration. It is a renaissance. It is the start of a new career for me.”