Thursday, June 4, 2009

RIP - David Carradine

Some very sad news today, as it's being reported that actor David Carradine has been found dead in a hotel in Bangkok. The Thai police are reporting that Carradine may have committed suicide by hanging himself, which, if true, makes this news all the more tragic.

Carradine was born in 1936, the son of character actor John Carradine, and formed part of an American acting dynasty that included him, his father and his brothers Robert, Keith and Bruce. In the early 1970s he appeared in the early Scorsese films Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets and had a small role in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye.

But it was as Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s series Kung Fu that made Carradine a star. He played a martial arts expert wandering the wild west in the series, which had been developed by Bruce Lee, dispensing wisdom in between kicking ass.

He left the series in 1975, eager for new challenges, and immediately found another cult success when he starred in Roger Corman's goofy satire Death Race 2000. He followed that with his acclaimed performance in the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory and by starring in The Serpent's Egg, which was directed by Ingmar Bergman.

However, it soon became clear that he was also a little unconventional. There were instances where he was caught openly high on mind-altering drugs of all kinds, which wasn't that unusual for the time, but gave him the reputation of being a slightly "gonzo" figure. This, combined with some odd script choices, saw his status go from acclaimed A-list actor to schlocky B-movie star. Some of these, like Q or Roadside Prophets, became cult films, but the vast majority were quickly forgotten.

Over the year he returned to the Kung Fu franchise, but never to the height of the original series. His comeback happened when Quentin Tarantino cast him as the titular figure in his two-part opus Kill Bill, which brought Carradine a new legion of fans. Although he had a few more high profile roles, mostly in television, he returned to the B-movie industry, which had been his bread and butter for decades.

Goodnight, Grasshopper.

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