Bob Calhoun

Bob Calhoun
Pacifica, California, USA
June 18
Bob Calhoun is a regular contributor to Film Salon and observer of offbeat media. His 2008 punk-wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (ECW Press) has spent one entire week on the San Francisco Chronicle's Bay Area bestseller list.

Editor’s Pick
JUNE 4, 2009 2:01PM

Kwai Chang Caine, RIP

Rate: 15 Flag
David Carradine from a story by Bruce Lee

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.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Interesting post. I'm sorry to see him go.
"And you’ve gotta’ be a fan to love Kung Fu the Legend Continues"

guess I'm a fan then, cause I did love that show.

"I 'm a cop. That's what I am, that's what I do"

The first Kung Fu show, for me, is one of the best shows in tv history.
Well, you know, one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.

I cannot believe I am quoting that cheesy song.
Intersting story. I didn't david was gone! Injoyed your story!
I'm hoping it was the Five Points Death Punch that did David Carradine in, and not death by suicide.

This news has me bummed.
Gus, we're all hoping it was something other than suicide.

One of my last memories of my mom and dad still being married was me at 5 years old watching a first fun episode of "Kung Fu" with my dad in my family's pre-divorce living room. It was one of the ones where Caine was wearing that gold satin gi. That episode has really stuck out in my mind ever since.
He had the best movie line ever (in Q):

"Well, maybe his head just got loose and fell off!"
Serizawa, "Q" is chock full of awesome lines. It's really underrated.
And another legend leaves us this year. Sad to see him go.

Great post, Bob!
My favorite thing about Carradine is that he lived with Barbara Hershey and for two years she changed her name to Barbara Seagull. Reports are saying he was found naked.... strange.

My ex lives in Phucket, I'll have to e-mail and see what the rumor mill is in that part of the world.
The locals in Thailand are gonna be really, really freaked out... they don't like ghosts....
MAWB, they must consider him a mighty ghost as well.

Well, he can take to the grave the fact that his 70s show inspired a whole neighborhood of kids to take up the martial arts, live better and generally be curious about Eastern Culture.

The DVD box sets are great too. I actually saw the guy who plays "Master Po" the blind priest in the flashbacks, on Star Trek the other night playing a guy who was "Of the Body" on Landru's world. Conversely, William Shattner (The Shatt) plays an evill Mofo in a later-season episode of Kung Fu.
West Side Rider, I really want that double DVD of "Circle of Iron" and I might break down and buy the DVD of "Death Sport" later today. I really need to see that Shatner episode of "Kung Fu." What about the episode of "Kung Fu" with Emilio Fernández from "The Wild Bunch" (and also an awesome director of Mexican cinema back in the 40s) as a devil worshiper who tries to burn Caine with the shadow of his cursed cross?
very nice tribute.
That is one of my FAVORITE Kung Fu's. Fernandez has those wild eyes. He may even be in a Rockford Files in a similarly dastardly role. So many good Kung Fus. There is one where he faces the Tong in a town that has a lot of "Chinee" in it and there is a big guy who throws an axe that used to kind of scare me as a kid. The Shatner one, if you didn't know, you would potentially miss him as he has a long haired wig and full handlebar and I believe hails from Scotland. You can imagine the quality accent Shatner comes out with.
I also think there is a Kung Fu where he works on some single woman's farm and then bangs her. Random.
@ Don Rich: Thanks Don.

@ West Side Rider: I bought a VHS copy of "Death Sport" today. This seemed appropriate somehow. That complete box set of every season of "Kung Fu" is looking mighty tempting.
It sounds like sexual asphyxia gone wrong. "Death by misadventure" as the British like to put it.

And what's the big deal about drugs? Is this a free country or not? People ought to be free to do what they please without a stigma. Ooh, drugs, shocking. How could he?

An uncle who was LAPD for years once mentioned that David C liked to get wasted and then break into a neighbor's house, destroying furniture with martial arts. Go figure.
I am a huge Kung Fu fan--and you're right about having to be a fan to watch The Legend Continues. Time for you to leave, Grasshopper!

But I always thought his finest role was as the reckless and cynical Cole Younger in The Long Riders. The knife fight scene, in particular.

Thanks for this remembrance.
Oh so sad. I grew up with that man (Kung Fu.) Believe it or not, I still use some of the lessons I learned from that show.

Since I'm a hot-tempered gal, I'll think of him when I see a situation arising and I try to do what he would do in that show...which wasn't fight, unless he had to. To peacefully retract and stay focused. A relaxed on-guardedness. Much easier than stressing out all the time. Pick and choose your battles. And stay calm in tense situations.

I hope he went as peacefully as felt him to be.
Kung Fu was a way cool show -- and Carradine an interesting dude. There are quite a few rumors that his death was an accidental hanging of sorts -- he was into autoerotic asphyxiation. This makes sense to me in a way. He always did things his way.
@Gordon, I've heard some stuntman stories about Carradine and what your police pal says is pretty easy to believe.

@Rich, God, I forgot to mention "The Long Riders" -- he's so good in that.

@Beth, "Kung Fu" was a primer on turning the other cheek. We could use some more of that. Can we send some reruns of that over to Fox News?

@Cindi, Carradine always lived the life and never denounced it or judged it.
Why are so many regretful that Carradine may have died a suicide, while relatively few are regretful that he died? This, I ponder.

We (mostly) all accept the inevitability of death, however we might temper it with hopes for 'life' in the hereafter. And we (mostly) all accept that this death normally comes at around age 70, give or take... "the days of our years are threescore years and ten" as proscribed by the Book of Psalms.

In spite of which, or because of which, we consider life a rare gift to be treasured, nurtured, grasped and clung to for as long as we possibly can. It is a rejection of this last, universal impulse whenever one of us commits suicide, takes his own life, dies by his own hand. Suicide makes a statement, pronouncing this rare gift to be not so great, declaring that the nothingness or uncertain hope of the hereafter is more desirable than this known life. Add to that, suicide deprives the rest of us, stuck here in life, of the departed one, whether he be dear or derided in his departure. "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." (Okay, so that was not a suicidal utterance, but it well may have been.)

Now, enough pontificating. I was not exactly a fan of David Carradine, but as a child I enjoyed his Kung Fu series of seventies tv, and as a mid-life man I enjoyed his role in the gory Kill Bill confections of this decade. Those were part of his work, his legacy, and they were more than I have got. I regret that this talent is gone.

But who was the man? I never knew him. I am grateful, Bob Calhoun, for the snippets of insight you've provided. And the thought of Carradine, in what should have been the apex of a life fully lived and still vibrant, being despairing or careless enough of his existence to end it shabbily in an impersonal hotel room far from the climes that shaped him -- this deeply saddens me.
I’m not judging, but this dude was into some really kinky stuff. He was found naked with a cord wrapped around his neck, and another wrapped around his genitals.

There is an unconfirmed report that one of the police officers, upon finding Mr. Carradine, commented that he was, “Well Hung!”
Although a suicide would definitely be more tragic than dying from autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong, I can't help but think that this is not the way I would want to be found. And it's not what I would want the police to have tell my family.

If one is into this sort of thing, one should try to be more careful.