David Carradine: Looking Back At A Cult Legend

David Carradine was found dead yesterday in Hong Kong at the age of 72.

It’s a sad loss – so we thought we’d dig back through the archives and pay tribute to the man they once called Caine…

1. He was a big family man

Carradine was close to his father and brothers – everyone, in fact.

“I think that, for me, it's an Irish thing,” he told Green Cine a few years ago. “I'm probably the cohesive force in this family that holds it together. I wanted the family.

“I think otherwise we would not all be hanging around together. There was a time when I was doing Shane, which would be 1966, and my brothers, who were living in San Mateo, started coming down to visit me and wanted to get into the business.

“I found them agents, took them around with me; and Bobby, I actually brought him up. From the time he was about 14, he lived in my guesthouse. I sent him to high school, I wrote the excuses for him, all that kind of thing.

“Most of my best friends are members of my family. I don't have a lot of friends outside of my family.

Next: Theatre work


2. He trod the boards

He might be more well known for his film and TV work, but the young Carradine – born into an acting family that included dad John, and his brothers Bruce, Keith, and Robert – mixed small TV parts with stage.

He studied drama in college in San Francisco, and appeared on New York’s Broadway stage, in everything from Shakespeare to more modern work.

That’s him with Christopher Plummer.

Next: A dancer, not a fighter


3.  He hadn’t studied martial arts before Kung Fu

“I had done a tiny little bit of middleweight boxing and I had done a lot of western movies where you throw punches and stuff,” he told Green Cine.
“I was a gymnast, almost an acrobat, and a dancer, and I'm a marksman and a fencer. I've done eleven Shakespeare plays, and you've got to be able to fence to do that. And those are all martial arts.

“But when I took the part, that really wasn't an issue. They asked me what I was going to do about that and I said, "Whatever happened to stunt men?" Then, as I was walking out, I threw a kick to the top of the door. I left a bare foot print over the top of the door which stayed there for the whole series.

“I think that's what got me the part, the fact that without any martial arts training I could definitely pull this off.”

Next: Beating Bruce Lee to the punch


4. He famously beat out Bruce Lee for the Kung Fu Lead

The role of Caine in Kung Fu remains Carradine’s most famous job.

But Bruce Lee was the original choice – with him helping to create the show and its concepts.

There was outrage that a “Western” thesp was cast instead.

But Kung producer Ed Spielman definitely approved: "I liked David in the part. One of Japan's foremost Karate champions used to say that the only qualification that was needed to be trained in the martial arts was that you had to know how to dance. And on top of being an accomplished athlete and actor, David could dance."

Despite the controversy, it worked out – the show became a major employer for Asian-American actors and Carradine became a major ambassador to the community.

Next: Directing legends


5. He’s worked with directing legends

How many actors can you name who have worked with Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman AND Quentin Tarantino?

The answer would be none. Carradine is the only actor who appeared in movies for all of those huge helming talents, plus Walter Hill and producer Roger Corman.

“Quentin is one of the very few directors who can give you direction, tell you what to do, and have it work. Most of the time when directors do that, it won't work. It lessens your performance,” Carradine.

“Bergman is a dictator. He tells you exactly what to do: how to move, where to look, everything. The result of that was that I really have no idea what kind of performance I was going to give, because I wasn't giving my performance. I was giving Ingmar's performance.

“And that works, maybe. I don't really care for my performance in that movie as much as I do in, say, Bound For Glory, where Hal Ashby, all he did was just stare at me, as if I was the greatest actor in the world and he was just fascinated by my work. It made me feel great and I just kept growing in the part.”

Next: True original


6. He was an original

'David follows his own drummer,'' director Roger Corman told Entertainment Weekly in 2004. ''He's a brilliant actor, but he's an individualist. He lives his life away from Hollywood and stays true to his own philosophy.''

“I'm incapable of keeping my mouth shut,” the actor admitted around the time of Kill Bill. “That offended the studio moguls — and I suppose I'm probably deliberately offensive to the studio moguls.''

Next: Comic book fan


7. He was a huge comics fan

Some actors claim to be fans of comic books to win over potential audiences when they shoot comic book pics.

Not Carradine. He was a rabid enthusiast, among his many other passions.

"I loved The Dark Knight Strikes Back, where Batman beats the s**t out of Superman and says 'Clark, you're so dumb. You've always been such a dummy.' And he becomes the most powerful guy in the universe, really.”

“I also loved the way that Superman gets regenerated is by Wonder Woman taking him up in the sky, up into the stratosphere and f*****n’ his brains out and that brings him back, right? I mean Frank Miller is pretty wild.

“But the story of Batman is much more human. He has no superpowers and this huge tragedy happened to him as a child, which has happened to a lot of people and they don't respond that way.

“But Batman decided to devote his life to trying to overcome that tragedy. And it was all very dark. He said, 'I've got to get these guys,' and that's all he wants to do. Until inadvertently he gets Robin killed and decided that he's gonna retire and never come back.

“And then he does, of course, but only because Frank wanted him back. Although we never gave up on him. I mean Batman kept goin'. I mean how many times has Bruce Wayne apparently died? Been broken up to where he can't do it any more and somebody else has to replace him in the costume.

But we still get back to it, it's Bruce Wayne again and he's still workin' and he's in his 60s. F****n' a! And me, too!"

Next: A chance to direct


8. He tried his hand at directing. Once…

Having built a successful acting career, Carradine decided to direct a film in 1973.

He put together a batch of film projects for himself to direct and planned to channel acting pay into his first directorial effort.

He hoped to launch this career with Americana, about an ex-Green Beret, played by Carradine, who drifts into a small Midwestern town in 1973 and impulsively decides to repair a broken-down merry-go-round.

He developed the script with writer Richard Carr and took a break from Kung Fu, headed to Kansas with 26 people and a low budget and shot the thing over 18 days.

"You don't have to be a millionaire to make a movie, but everyone always feels there are limitations," he told The Hollywood Reporter "I wanted to see if it were true. I found that shooting in sequence and working with a small crew were all simplifying factors."

Sadly, while he did manage to secure a release Stateside in 1983, the critics were not kind, and he didn’t slip behind the camera again.

"It wasn't just that the critics didn't like the picture, they were angry at me for making it," Carradine said. "I'll never figure that out."

Next: Music man


9. He was musically accomplished

Next: Birth of Bill


10. He was one of the inspirations for his Kill Bill role

Though Warren Beatty was originally offered the part, Tarantino, it would seem, always wanted Carradine as the lethal leader.

''It was Warren who said, 'Why don't you hire David?''' Carradine told Entertainment Weekly ''Because Quentin just kept talking about me all the time, and Warren just got sick of it.''

The director planned it as a comeback that would also show a new side of the actor.

''Quentin said, 'It's got to be a home run. He wanted it to be a revelation to the world that would show me like people don't know me.''

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