DAVID CARRADINE has been found dead in a Bangkok hotel room. The reports of his death are getting more and more lurid. He may have hanged himself with a cord of some kind. The US Embassy in Thailand is only confirming his death right now. Reports of suicide or mysterious circumstances could just be the results of the Bangkok rumor mill. Carradine lived hard and fast but still made it to 72. In an interview in Psychotronic from the 1990s, Carradine discusses dropping acid and doing other hard drugs like it’s a regular occurrence for him. While Dennis Hopper left his days of easy ridin’ behind him, cleaned himself up and started plugging GOP candidates like both Bushes and Bob Dole at Republican conventions, Carradine lead the rebel life until the end.
Three weeks ago I posted a blog comparing my one run-in with Carradine to my more recent meeting with Bruce Dern (another frequent star of Roger Corman exploitation movies in the 1960s and 70s). I ended up casting Carradine in a bad light. I feel kind of bad about that now, or at least weird about it. On the train ride this morning I even had some thoughts of taking the thing down, but hell, it all happened (plus, it’s only a goddamned blog). And even though Carradine just sat there at his merch table and couldn’t even look up at me, I’m still a fan. I’ll still throw on Death Race 2000 (1975), Death Sport (1978) or even episodes of Kung Fu The Legend Continues every now and then. And you’ve gotta’ be a fan to love Kung Fu the Legend Continues.
Carradine has his SF Bay Area roots. Like me, he went to San Francisco State University. He dropped out and hung out with the Beatniks in North Beach. He chased his espressos with weed. He also held down a job cleaning out the brewing tanks at the Lucky Lager Brewery in San Mateo back when that cheap brew’s bottle caps had weird visual puzzles printed on them.
Carradine beat out Bruce Lee for the role of Kwai Chang Caine in TVs Kung Fu the 70s. Adding insult to injury, Lee created the concept for the show, a fact that Kung Fu’s producers seem to conveniently forget in so many DVD “making of” documentaries. Carradine became the first mainstream martial arts star without being a martial artist. When American Shaolin author Matthew Polly brought some video tapes of old Kung Fu episodes to THE actual Shaolin Temple in China, the monks all thought that the lofan (Carradine) was making fun of them with his bad technique. Bruce Lee went to Hong Kong, made kung fu classics, and became a tragic movie legend on par with James Dean. Like his father, John Carradine, David had brushes of cinematic greatness mixed together with heaps of low budget dreck and an occasional cult classic thrown in. John was in Grapes of Wrath (1940), Stagecoach (1939) and The Ten Commandments (1956) to name a few. He was also in the Astro Zombies (1968) and Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972). David was in the early Scorsese films Boxcar Bertha (1972) and Mean Streets (1973) as well as Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976). He was also in Dead and Breakfast (2004). While not on the level of Bruce Lee as a cultural phenomenon, Carradine still carried enough mystique to play the title in Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.
For whatever reason, I’m still hoping that rumors of suicide are just that and that David Carradine went the way I always thought he would: from partying just a little too hard for a man his age. While the urge to practice tai chi moves to his old how-to videos may be hard to resist, you should also make the time to check out some of Carradine’s more interesting films. Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) comes to mind, where Carradine chews the scenery along with Michael Moriarty as a mythical Mexican flying snake god menaces New York City. Also see Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), the movie where Carradine dukes it out with none other than Chuck Norris (!) to a soundtrack by Spaghetti Western maestro Francesco De Masi. Also check out Circle of Iron (1978), another project originally created by Bruce Lee but realized by Carradine, this time posthumously. Lee came up with the concept but Carradine was cast in the picture a few years after the Enter the Dragon star’s untimely death. Although Lee may have preferred it differently, the two actors will always be linked and both will be equally missed.
You can leave a comment for David Carradine's family on his website.