Here’s one from the “all the news that’s shit to print” file. David Carradine, the actor best known for playing Kwai Chang Caine in the martial arts/western TV series Kung Fu — and more recently for his role as Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s brilliantly bloody two volume Shaw Bros. tribute, Kill Bill — is dead. He was discovered by a maid at his hotel in Bangkok, where he was shooting his latest film, Stretch. He apparently hung himself.
In between Caine and Bill, David Carradine put together quite an entertaining and accomplished career for himself. He starred in the cult classic Death Race 2000, played Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory, and was the evil Justin LaMotte, Patrick Swayze’s romantic rival for Lesley-Anne Down in North and South. And — one of my personal favorites — he was in the oddball horror flick Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, about a town of vampires trying to go straight by drinking artificial blood and putting on sunscreen to go out during the day.
He was from one of the great acting families in the history of American cinema. His brothers Robert and Keith are both actors, and his father was the legendary John Carradine, who in his long career played Dracula on film a shitload more times than Bela Lugosi ever thought about doing. David was a hell of an actor himself, better than he usually got credit for, wry and incredibly subtle, and nearly always compelling. He deserved better than to wind up in some hotel in Thailand, hanging in a wardrobe by a cord.
All the media reports I’ve read have called his death a suicide, but until an autopsy is performed how can we be sure it wasn’t murder via the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique? I hope there is a full investigation.
The New York Times’ ArtsBeat blog picked Kill Bill’s “Superman monologue” as their favorite David Carradine moment. I can’t argue with that. But I first knew him when I was a teenager and he was starring in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, the syndicated sequel to his breakthrough TV series. He played another character named Kwai Chang Caine, this one the grandson of the hero of the original Kung Fu. This Caine lived in a contemporary city and fought crime alongside his son Peter, a police detective at the Chinatown precinct. When the show debuted I didn’t pay it much attention — there was so much other shit on first-run syndication back then, some of it not at all Star Trek or Baywatch related — but it eventually won me over through sheer brute weirdness. This was no boring old karate cop show, like that venerable Chuck Norris vehicle Walker, Texas Ranger. This was a show that could be about Caine and Peter busting drug dealers one week, and traveling back in time thousands of years the next week. Because Caine wasn’t just a fighting machine — he could enter people’s dreams, move objects telekinetically, and yes, even throw himself backwards and forwards in time, all through the power of his mind.
Standing at the center of it all was Carradine with his impenetrable deadpan, delivering his lines in that almost-too-fucking-calm tone for which he was known, a goofy kind of genius. I miss that show, and I’ll miss him.