David Carradine 1936-2009
A forthright and intelligent actor who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, David Carradine was found dead in his hotel room in Bangkok on 4th June 2009, after what seems to have been an act of auto-asphyxiation.
The actor will be remembered most vividly for the title role he played in Quentin Tarantino’s two volume revenge opus “Kill Bill” – a part he inherited when the director’s first choice, Warren Beatty, pointed out that if Tarantino wanted him to act so much like David Carradine, maybe he should just go direct to the source.
An older generation – that is, Tarantino’s generation – will know the star best for the popular TV series, “Kung Fu”, which ran for three seasons between 1972 and 1975 (and was repeated regularly thereafter). Carradine was Kwai Chang Caine, the Shaolin monk roaming the American West like Gandhi with a black belt. Although he wasn’t oriental, the part fit Carradine’s stoic, reserved strength, and it cemented his image in the public consciousness. It meant plenty to the actor too, who developed a lifelong interest in Martial Arts and Eastern philosophy (see also the cult curio Circle Of Iron, aka The Silent Flute, in which Carradine plays four roles, including Death).
With his leathery looks and hooded eyes, Carradine was most often cast as a tough guy – although not the out and out villain his father, John Carradine, was typecast as in several hundred films in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
There was never much doubt that David would follow in his father’s footsteps – as did his brother’s Keith and Robert. All three siblings costarred in Walter Hill’s underrated western The Long Riders. (He also appeared with his brother Bruce in Lary Cohen’s Q the Winged Serpent.)
Other highlights in a career that includes more than a hundred films and an equal number of TV shows are Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg; Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha (with his first wife, Barbara Hershey), and Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory, in which he played Woody Guthrie.
He also directed and starred in Americana, a strange, beguiling allegory about a Vietnam veteran who fixes up a broken merry-go-round in rural town. Independently financed, the film was started in 1973 but not completed for years and only released in 1983. It deserves to be better known.
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