The world of martial arts entertainment lost one of its most important and influential stars today as David Carradine was found dead in a hotel room in Thailand on June 4 at the age of 72. He was in Thailand shooting his new movie “Stretch” when he was found in his room dead of an apparent suicide.
Carridine was most know for his role as Kwai Chang Caine in the genre-breaking Kung Fu/Western television show “Kung Fu.” It was there that the term “Grasshopper” became synonymous with the martial arts and Carradine’s career was forged.
From there Carradine led a very successful acting career, becoming a four time Golden Globe nominee. Though known best for his roles as kung fu masters, Carradine was a multi-talented man, working with such greats as director Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman. He also became famous for portraying such great American icons as Woody Guthrie in the 1976 movie “Bound for Glory.”
Carradine was also not above playing humorous roles. From the self parodies of his famous Kwai Chang role appearing in everything from Lipton Iced Tea commercials to Jonas Brothers’ music videos, to his voice acting in several cartoons, including Nickelodeon’s “Danny Phantom” and “King of the Hill,” Carradine was noted for his sense of humor as well as his action star fame.
In his final years, Carradine never stopped making movies. In fact, he seemed to average almost a dozen a year since the turn of the century. Most famously he appeared as Bill, the ladies man leader of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad, in the Quentin Tarantino classics “Kill Bill Volumes I and II.” He also appeared as the host of the TV series “Wild West Tech” on the History Channel, a show that went over everything about old west technology from faster six shooters to failed cures for dysentery.
Carradine was a known supporter of small budget films, appearing in many direct to DVD action titles. He was once quoted as saying, “Independent movies are just loaded with an enthusiasm that you usually don’t find in a big feature.” In 2005 he was honored for his list of over 200 roles when he was awarded the Action on Film International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.
The last movie released featuring Carradine was titled “Break,” an assassin thriller in which Carradine appeared along side his long time acting partner and friend Michel Madsen. Madsen, who had appeared with Carradine previously in both “Kill Bill” and “Money to Burn,” was known to be extremely close to Carradine, so much so that Carradine’s marriage to his wife occurred on Madsen’s Malibu estate.
What is lost in the death of David Carradine is not just an icon of the kung fu genre. What is lost is a truly enjoyable man to see in any form of media. He may not have been considered an A-lister by the standard definition, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who in the very least didn’t recognize his face and smile when he came on screen. He was a pioneer of his genre, a man of good humor, and will certainly be missed by all who knew his work.