June 5, 2009

This was David Carradine

David Carradine
(1936 – 2009)

If you are a fan of cult or exploitation films, you've probably heard the heart-breaking news that David Carradine was found dead on June 3, 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Mainstream audiences know Carradine best from his standout performance as Bill, Uma Thurman's nemesis / lover in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Fans of drive-in, kung-fu, and cult films, however, know Carradine best from his leading roles and guest spots in over 200 film and TV productions. He was Kwai Chang Caine, the wandering monk of martial arts, in Kung Fu. He was the mysterious Frankenstein of the original Death Race 2000, a masked gladiatorial racer rumored to be rebuilt after each violent crash. He was Abel Rosenberg, the unemployed American circus acrobat in post-WWI Germany for Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg. Although much of his recent work tended to go direct-to-video or only get a limited release, there wasn't a genre, obscure or mainstream, that Carradine wasn't a part of ... except for the zombie genre.

But even Carradine got in on the zombie genre eventually. Carradine has a role in Steven Rumbelow's film adaptation of AUTUMN, based on David Moody's novel of the same name. AUTUMN, which now stands as Carradine's last Canadian film, has not yet been released, but director/writer Rumbelow has been very open about the bond he formed with Carradine while shooting.

"He proved to me that he was capable of just about anything I wanted to test him with," said Rumbelow in an e-mail he shared with me last night. "We were supposed to do Christmas together this year. I miss him. He was like another kid in the schoolyard. I’m really, really sad. We sorta recognized the rebel brat in each other the first time we met. There was definitely that recognition… he took one look, put his hands on his hips and said 'uh-oh this is going to be good, Orson.' I miss him"

Carradine was on location in Thailand to shoot the film Stretch, but in a shocking turn of events, a maid discovered David Carradine's body hanged in a closet. People is reporting that police found Carradine's body in a sitting position, "with a yellow rope wrapped around the neck and attached to a closet bar." The police suspect Carradine commited suicide but admit that the circumstances are very suspicious.

Carradine's past struggles with drugs, alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts are no mystery to those who know him, but many of his family, supporters, and fans cannot believe he would commit suicide today.

For one, many have commented on how Carradine had turned his life around in the past few years. In an Associated Press interview with Carradine in 2004, Carradine was quoted discussing his past alcoholism and drug abuse, but he seemed very positive about the future. "You're probably witnessing the last time I will ever answer those questions [about substance abuse]. . . . Because this is a regeneration, "he said. "It is a renaissance. It is the start of a new career for me. It's time to do nothing but look forward." Did Carradine really turn his life around? Those closest to him certainly seem to think so. Tiffany Smith, his manager, was quoted in People as stating, "I can tell you 100 percent that he would have never committed suicide."

Obviously, those who knew Carradine doubt he was suicidal. By many accounts, he was so full of enthusiasm about his future work that suicide seems out of the question.

"There is no way David took that way out," Rumbelow adamantly explains. "He was too alive. We were talking just two Saturdays ago… he was excited about the script Over the Edge which we’ve been working on together since Autumn finished shooting. He was in great shape enjoying his drive… loving the weather…. top down… coast road…. Plenty of work coming up… late for an event as usual. Smile. He was happy and full of life. No way he hung himself. He was way too much of a rebel to take that way out. He was way too much of a Buddhist to take that way out."

Suicide or not, the way Carradine died is less important than the man he was, the body of work he leaves behind, and the people he inspired. Film has lost a truly special star, even if that star burned brightest on the fringes of planet Hollywood. Even when Carradine wasn't involved in films of the highest quality, he was always engaging and fun to watch.

In one of my favorite lines from Kill Bill: Volume 2 that conveys more in what is not said rather than is said, the Bride asks Bill if he's going to be nice.

"I've never been nice my whole life," Bill replies before a cryptic pause, "but I'll do my best... to be sweet."

Well, David, your career was pretty sweet.

"The world is a duller place without him," says Rumbelow. That's for sure.