David Carradine has died at age 72, in a hotel in Bangkok. Conflicting reports from news agencies and his lawyers have it vary from natural causes, suicide by hanging, to death by misadventure from autoerotic asphyxia, or perhaps someone was helping and fled. He was found in a closet, after all. I don’t want to think of my ’70s hero with a rope around his genitals, so let’s remember all the great movies and TV shows he gave us.
Of course, the TV series Kung Fu, where he played Kwai Chang Kane and walked the Earth. Along with Bruce Lee, he helped bring martial arts to popularity in the States. But he began in Westerns, and even had small roles in The Long Goodbye (full review) and Scorsese’s Mean Streets. His dive into exploitation began with Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s classic Death Race 2000 (full review) and othe car movies like Cannonball! and continued with unbelievable ’80s movies like Q and The Warrior and the Sorceress, which I’ve finally found and will review next week in his honor.
He managed to sneak the uber-violent Western The Long Riders in there, and he was always working, even if it was playing the bad guy vs. Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade. My favorite roles of his were Frankenstein in Death Race 2000, and when he took Bruce Lee’s role in the underrated martial arts film The Silent Flute (aka Circle of Iron). That story was originally written by James Coburn and Bruce Lee, and the story is similar to Game of Death in some ways. After Lee died, Carradine was the only choice- he not only had good kung fu chops and acting ability, but his chilly presence gave off just the right kind of mystic aloofness the role required.
Now, Carradine is probably best known as being Bill in the Kill Bill movies, and we should thank Tarantino for bringing Carradine to a big film again. He was always working, as his extensive IMDb profile shows, but languished in many forgettable roles unworthy of his presence. He was an instantly recognizable icon, and will be missed. Hopefully it was quick. We were all hoping he passed away under a pile of hookers of a massive cardiac infarction, befitting his manly image. But no matter how he died, we’ll always remember the crazy, fun movies he helped give us.
R.I.P., Mr. Carradine.