Snatched: the final pebble

I awakened this morning to the sad news that actor David Carradine had been found dead in a Bangkok hotel suite, the victim of an apparent suicide.

For us children of the ’70s, Carradine was and always will be Kwai Chang Caine, the contemplative Shaolin master who wandered the American West in the classic TV series Kung Fu. To younger audiences, he’ll be remembered as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part assassins-gone-wild epic, Kill Bill.

As a teenage martial arts film fan — and more specifically, as a devotee of cinema’s greatest hand-fighting hero, Bruce Lee — I recall vividly the controversy engendered when Lee was passed over for the lead in Kung Fu (the concept for which Lee originated, according to his widow) in favor of the Caucasian Carradine. Looking back on the series as it evolved, though, it’s difficult to imagine that Lee would have been better suited for the role than was Carradine. Indeed, Lee’s natural intensity and charisma might have worked against the character — he consistently outshone his top-billed costar Van Williams during their days on The Green Hornet — whereas Carradine’s quieter, gentler approach made an effective match.

Unfortunately for Carradine, with the role of Caine so indelibly etched into the public consciousness, he found it difficult to land decent roles in major films for the next three decades. A rare exception: his Golden Globe-nominated turn as politically charged folksinger Woody Guthrie in the biopic Bound for Glory. In and around the infrequent big-studio production (Death Race 2000, The Long Riders), Carradine coasted along, making scads of execrable direct-to-video junk and hawking Asian health supplements and martial arts instructional tapes.

He even reprised Caine — sort of — in a tepid early-1990s syndicated series called Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which Carradine starred as the original Caine’s modern-day namesake grandson, who by sheer television coincidence is also a Shaolin priest and kung fu master.

A decade later, Tarantino came knocking. Which made sense, given QT’s passion for cheesy action epics and all things ’70s.

After the success of Kill Bill, Carradine became ubiquitous. He turned up in a couple dozen projects over the past five years, most recently the Jason Statham action sequel Crank: High Voltage.

Given Carradine’s serene public persona, the news of his suicide comes as a shock. Then again, who truly knows what darkness dwells in the heart of another human being?

Funny… I can imagine Caine saying that.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Celebritiana, Cinemania, Dead People Got No Reason to Live, Hero of the Day, Reminiscing, Teleholics Anonymous

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