Friday, June 3, 2011
Celebrity Grave: "Kung Fu" & "Kill Bill " Actor David Carradine 2009
David Carradine (December 8, 1936 - June 3, 2009) was an American character actor, best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s television series, Kung Fu and its 1990s sequel series, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. He was a member of a productive acting dynasty that began with his father, John Carradine. His acting career, which included major and minor roles on stage, television and cinema, spanned over four decades. A prolific "B" movie actor, he appeared in more than 100 feature films and was nominated four times for a Golden Globe Award. The latest nomination was for his part in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. In addition to his acting career, Carradine was also a musician and pursued a directing career. Influenced by his most popular acting role, he studied martial arts.
The child of a frequently married actor, "Jack," as Carradine was known in his youth, had an unstable childhood. This instability would continue throughout his life as he himself was married several times. He was also frequently arrested and prosecuted for a variety of offenses which often involved substance abuse. His death occurred in June 2009, under unusual circumstances.
He was born John Arthur Carradine in Hollywood, California, the son of Ardanelle "Abigail" (née McCool) and noted American actor John Carradine. He was a brother of Bruce, half-brother of Keith, Christopher and Robert Carradine, and an uncle of Ever Carradine and Martha Plimpton. He was the great-grandson of Methodist evangelical author Beverly Carradine and the grandnephew of artist Will Foster.
"Jack" Carradine's formative years were turbulent. Both of his parents repeatedly married. He was the product of his mother's second marriage of three, and his father's first of four. At the time his parents married each other, his mother already had a son, Bruce, by her first husband, whom John adopted. John Carradine planned a large family but, his son explained in his autobiography, after his wife had had a series of miscarriages, he discovered that she had had repeated "coat hanger" abortions, without his knowledge, which rendered her unable to carry a baby to full term. It was with this backdrop of marital discord that at the age of 5, Jack almost succeeded in committing suicide by hanging. He said that the incident followed his discovery that he and Bruce had different biological fathers. He added that, "My father saved me, and then confiscated my comic book collection and burned it - which was scarcely the point."
After only three years of marriage, Ardenelle Carradine filed for divorce from John, but the couple remained married for another five years. Divorce finally came in 1944, when Jack was seven-years-old. His father left California to avoid court action in the alimony settlement. After the couple engaged in a series of court battles involving child custody and alimony, which at one point landed John in jail, Jack joined his father in New York City. By this time his father had remarried. For the next few years he was shuffled between boarding schools, foster homes and reform school. He also would often accompany his father while the elder performed summer theater through out the Northeast. He spent time in Massachusetts and even one miserable winter milking cows on a farm in Vermont.
Eventually, Carradine returned to California where he graduated from Oakland High School. He attended Oakland Junior College for a year before transferring to San Francisco State College (SFSC) where he studied drama and music theory. There he wrote music for the drama department's annual revues while juggling work at menial jobs, a fledgling stage acting career and his studies. After he dropped out of SFSC, Carradine spent some time with the "beatniks" of San Francisco's North Beach and Venice, CA. During this time he collected unemployment insurance and sold baby pictures. He was also prosecuted for disturbing the peace.
Despite an attempt to dodge the draft, in 1960 Carradine was inducted into the U.S. Army where he drew pictures for training aids. That Christmas he married his high school sweetheart, Donna Lee Becht. While stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia he helped to establish a theater company which became known as the "entertainment unit". He met fellow inductee, Larry Cohen, who later cast him in Q, The Winged Serpent. He also faced court-martial for shoplifting. In 1962, Donna gave birth to their daughter, Calista. Carradine was honorably discharged after a two-year tour.
Film and television career
Upon leaving the Army, Carradine became serious about his acting pursuits. It was at that time that he was advised to change his name to avoid confusion with his famous father. In 1963, he made his television debut on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre. Several other television roles were to follow including appearances on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, andThe Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He made his feature film debut in 1964 in Taggart, a western based on a novel by Louis L'Amour.
His first "big break," however, came with his second Broadway part in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, a play by Peter Shaffer about the destruction of the Inca empire by conquistador Francisco Pizarro. He said of this performance, "Many of the important roles that I got later on were because the guy who was going to hire me was in that audience and had his mind blown." For that part, Carradine won a Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance in 1965.
With the closing of The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and the failing of his marriage, Carradine left New York and headed back to California. He returned to TV to star in the short-lived series Shane, a 1966 western based upon a 1949 novel of the same name and previously filmed in 1953.
In 1972, he co-starred as 'Big' Bill Shelly in one of Martin Scorsese's earliest films Boxcar Bertha, which starred Barbara Hershey, his domestic partner at the time (see Personal life). This was one of several Roger Corman productions in which he was to appear. It was also one of a handful of acting collaborations he made with his father, John.
David Carradine as Caine in the original Kung FuFor three seasons, David Carradine starred as a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine on the ABC hit TV series Kung Fu (1972–1975) and was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for the role. The show, which took place in the "Old West," helped to popularize the martial arts and Eastern philosophy in the West and immortalized the character of Kwai Chang Caine, often referred to as "Grasshopper," in popular culture.
Although the choice of a Caucasian to play the role of Kwai Chang Caine stirred controversy, the show served as steady employment for several Asian-American actors. In addition to Keye Luke and Philip Ahn, who held leading roles in the cast as Caine's Shaolin masters, Robert Ito, James Hong, Benson Fong, Richard Loo and Victor Sen Yung frequently appeared in the series. Kung Fu ended when Carradine quit to pursue a movie career, but he reprised the role of Kwai Chang Caine in 1986 in Kung Fu: The Movie. Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, in his acting debut, portrayed his son.
Early in the 1990s, Carradine once again reprised the role of Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993–97) playing the grandson of the original character of the same name. Carradine starred in the program and served as Executive Producer and Director. The program offered him the opportunity to recreate the character for which he was most widely recognized. Also starring on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues was an unfamiliar struggling actor, spokesperson and singer from Toronto, Chris Potter. During this time Carradine's alcoholism escalated and he entered alcohol rehab. The show was canceled in 1997, after 5 1/2 seasons, and 88 episodes.
Immediately following the Kung Fu series, Carradine accepted the role as the race car driver, Frankenstein in Death Race 2000 (1975), he said, to "kill the image of Caine and launch a movie career," The Roger Corman exploitation film became a cult classic. It was based on Ib Melchior's first science fiction work, a short story called The Racer.
In 1976, Carradine earned critical praise for his portrayal of folksinger Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby's Bound for Glory (1976) for which he won a National Board of Review Award for Best Actor. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award for his role as Guthrie.
Next came the role of the alcoholic, unemployed trapeze artist, Abel Rosenberg in The Serpent's Egg (1977). Set in post-World War I Berlin The Serpent's Egg, which also starred Liv Ullman, is the only English language film made by legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Bergman said of his leading man, "I don't believe in God, but Heaven must have sent him." Carradine said that he and Bergman had plans for further collaboration, but the director's affection for the actor waned when the latter passionately protested a scene which included the butchering of a horse. The altercation caused Carradine to question the fate of Bergman's soul while the director declared, "Little Brother, I am an old whore. I have shot two other horses, burned one and strangled a dog."
When Bruce Lee died in 1973, he left an unreleased movie script that he had developed with James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant called The Silent Flute. The script became Circle of Iron (1978) and in the film Carradine played the four roles that were originally intended for Lee. Carradine considered this to be among his best work.
In 1980, the thespian appeared in an ensemble cast, which included his half-brothers, Keith and Robert Carradine, in The Long Riders (1980). The cast also included three other brother/actor groupings: Stacy and James Keach, Dennis and Randy Quaid, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest. The movie, which was about the Jesse James gang, gave Carradine, who played Cole Younger, one of his most memorable roles.
Throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, David Carradine's acting career suffered a decline. Although he continued to amass movie and television credits, few of his roles garnered much attention. Most of his work was issued "straight to home video." However, a few of his movies, such as The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984), Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990) and Sonny Boy (1989), developed cult followings. In 1997, Carradine was awarded a star on the Hollywood "Walk of Fame." The presenters played an "April Fool's Day" prank on him by first unveiling a star that had the name of his brother, Robert, on it.
Carradine signing autographs in Malmö, 2005.Carradine enjoyed a revival of his notoriety when he was cast in Quentin Tarantino's sequential Kill Bill movies, in 2003 and 2004. Among those who thought his portrayal of the assassin extraordinaire, Bill, AKA: "The Snake Charmer," would earn him an Oscar nod was Scott Mantz, of The Mediadrome, who said, "Carradine practically steals every scene he’s in with confident gusto, and he gives a soulful performance that should all but ensure a spot on next year’s Oscar ballot." Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper each had Kill Bill Vol. 2 on their top ten list for of Academy Awards predictions. Although the films received no notice from the Academy, Carradine did receive a Golden Globe nomination and a Saturn Award, for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bill.
The actor, who once received an award for being the hardest working member of his profession in Hollywood, still had approximately a dozen projects in "post-production" at the time of his death in 2009. Most of these roles were cameos or small parts in independent, direct to DVD, productions. Perhaps his last leading role was in Golden Boys (AKA: Chatham, 2008). Although the film had some solid features, including Carradine's performance, critics found the plot dull. It had only a limited theater run before its release on DVD, and received no critical acclaim.
Carradine attracted notice, in 1985, when he appeared in a supporting role in North and South, a miniseries about the American Civil War with a large ensemble cast that included Patrick Swayze in a leading role. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. He also appeared in North and South, Book II, telecast in May 1986.
In addition, he was featured in a Lipton tea commercial, which first aired during the broadcast of Super Bowl XXVIII. The advertisement paid tribute to The Three Stooges while satirizing his role in Kung Fu. In 2001, he appeared in the episode The Serpent of the syndicated tv series Queen of Swords as the sword wielding bandit El Serpiente filmed at Texas Hollywood studio's, home of many spaghetti westerns, Southern Spain. He took over hosting duties from his brother Keith on Wild West Tech on the History Channel, in 2005. By 2006, he had become the spokesman for Yellowbook, a publisher of independent telephone directories in the United States.
Carradine made his directorial debut on three episodes of Kung Fu. While still performing on Kung Fu, he tried his hand at directing some independent projects of his own. Americana (1983), took ten years to complete due to difficulty in financing. It featured Carradine in the starring role and several of his friends and family members in supporting roles. The film won the People's Choice Award at the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, but failed to achieve critical support or adequate distribution. Other directorial attempts included You and Me (1975), and two unreleased productions: Mata Hari, an epic that starred his daughter, Calista, and a feature length musical called A Country Mile.
Carradine knew nothing of the practice of kung fu at the time he was cast in the role of Kwai Chang Caine, instead he relied on his experience as a dancer for the part. He had also had experience in sword fighting, boxing and street fighting on which to draw. For the first half of the original series, David Chow provided technical assistance with kung fu. Later, Kam Yuen provided the expertise. It was not until after the series was canceled that Carradine began to study the martial arts, first from Yuen and eventually from Rob Moses, a student of Yuen's. He never considered himself a "master" of the art, but as an "evangelist" of kung fu. By 2003 he had acquired enough expertise in the martial arts to produce and star in several instructional videos on Tai chi and Qi Gong.
In addition to his acting career, David Carradine was a talented musician. He sang and played the piano, the guitar and the flute among other instruments. His musical talents were often integrated into his screen performances. He performed several of Woody Guthrie's songs for the movie Bound for Glory. For the Kung Fu series he made flutes out of bamboo that he had planted on the Warner's Brother's lot which he played on the program. He later made several flutes for the movie Circle of Iron (AKA The Silent Flute) one of which he later played in Kill Bill. Carradine wrote and performed the theme songs for at least two movies that he starred in, Americana, and Sonny Boy. The first line from the Sonny Boy theme, Paint, which he wrote while filming Americana in Drury, Kansas in 1973, is engraved on his headstone. He wrote and performed several songs for American Reel (2003) and wrote the score for You and Me. He and his brother, Robert, also performed with a band, the Cosmic Rescue Team (AKA Soul Dogs). The band primarily performed in small venues and benefits.
Reports of arrests and prosecutions
By his own account, in the late 1950s, while he was living in San Francisco, young John A. Carradine was arrested for assaulting a police officer. He pleaded to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace. While in the Army (1960–62) he faced court-martial, on more than one occasion, for shoplifting. After he became an established actor, and had changed his name to "David," he was arrested, in 1967, for possession of marijuana.
At the height of his popularity in Kung Fu, in 1974, David Carradine was arrested again, this time for attempted burglary and malicious mischief. While under the influence of peyote, Carradine, nude, began wandering around his Laurel Canyon neighborhood. He broke into a neighbor's home, breaking a window and cutting his arm. He then bled all over the homeowners piano. At some time during this episode he accosted two young women, allegedly assaulting one while asking, or demanding of her, if she was a witch. The police literally followed a trail of blood to his home. The burglary charges were dropped, as nothing was found to be missing, while Carradine pleaded "no contest" to the mischief charge and was given probation. He was never charged with assault, but the young woman sued him for $1.1 million and was awarded $20,000.
In 1980, while in South Africa filming Safari 3000 (AKA: Rally), which co-starred Stockard Channing, Carradine was arrested for possession of marijuana. He was convicted and given a suspended sentence. He claimed that he was framed, in this case, by the Apartheid government as he had been seen dancing with Tina Turner.
During the 1980s Carradine was arrested at least twice for driving under the influence of alcohol, once in 1984 and again in 1989. In the second case, Carradine pleaded "no contest." Of this incident The L.A. Times reported "legal experts say Carradine was handed a harsher-than-average sentence, even for a second-time offender: three years' summary probation, 48 hours in jail, 100 hours of community service, 30 days' work picking up trash for the California Department of Transportation, attendance at a drunk driving awareness meeting and completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program."
Shortly after being drafted into the Army, in 1960, David Carradine proposed marriage to Donna Lee Becht (born September 26, 1937). whom he met while they were students at Oakland High School. They were married on Christmas Day that year. She lived with him off base in Virginia, while he was stationed at Fort Eustis. In April, 1962, she gave birth to their daughter, Calista. After his discharge, they lived in New York as David established his acting career appearing on Broadway in The Deputy and Royal Hunt of the Sun. The marriage dissolved in 1968. Carradine left New York at that point and headed back to California to continue his television and film careers.
In 1969, he met Barbara Hershey while the two of them were working on Heaven With a Gun. The pair began a domestic relationship that would last until 1975. They appeared in other films together including Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha. In 1972 they appeared in a nude Playboy spread, recreating some sex scenes from Boxcar Bertha. That year Hershey gave birth to their son, Free (who later changed his name to Tom, much to his father's chagrin). The relationship fell apart, around the time of his 1974 burglary arrest, when Carradine began an affair with Season Hubley who had guest starred on Kung Fu. He was engaged to Hubley for a time, but they did not marry.
Carradine married his second wife, Linda, (née Linda Anne Gilbert, born March 16, 1950) the former wife of The Byrds lead guitarist, Roger McGuinn, in a civil ceremony, in Munich, Germany, immediately following the filming of The Serpent's Egg, in February, 1977. Their daughter, Kansas was born April 19, 1978. This marriage ended in divorce as did the two that followed. He was married to Gail Jensen from 1986–1997 and to Marina Anderson from 1998-2001. By this time, Carradine had proclaimed himself to be a "serial monogamist."
On December 26, 2004, Carradine married the widowed Annie Bierman (née Anne Kirstie Fraser, born December 21, 1960) at the seaside Malibu home of his friend, Michael Madsen. Vicki Roberts, his attorney and longtime friend of his wife, performed the ceremony. With this marriage he acquired three stepdaughters, Amanda Eckelberry (born November 29, 1989), Madeleine Rose (born April 4, 1995) and Olivia Juliette (born 1998) and a stepson, Max Richard (born 1998).
On June 4, 2009, David Carradine was found dead in his room at the Swissôtel Nai Lert Park Hotel on Wireless Road, near Sukhumvit Road, in central Bangkok, Thailand. He was in Bangkok to shoot his latest film, Stretch. A police official said Carradine was found hanging by a rope in the room's closet, causing immediate speculation that his death was suicidal. However, evidence suggested that his death was the result of autoerotic asphyxiation. Two autopsies were conducted and concluded that the death was not caused by suicide. The cause of death became widely accepted as "accidental asphyxiation."
Immediately following his death, two of Carradine's ex-wives, Gail Jensen and Marina Anderson, stated publicly that his sexual interests included the practice of self-bondage. Anderson, who had plans to publish a "tell all book" about her marriage to Carradine, said in an interview with Access Hollywood, "There was a dark side to David, there was a very intense side to David. People around him know that." Previously in her divorce filing she had claimed that "It was the continuation of abhorrent and deviant sexual behavior which was potentially deadly."
Photographs, supposedly of Carradine at the death scene, as well as photographs of his autopsied body, were widely circulated in newspapers and on the internet. Finally, his family, represented by his brothers, Keith and Robert, pleaded with the public and the press to let them mourn their loved one in peace.
Carradine's funeral was held on June 13, 2009 in Los Angeles. His bamboo casket was carried in a white hearse from Groman Eden Mortuary to his burial at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Among the many stars and family members that attended his private memorial were: Lucy Liu, Tom Selleck, Frances Fisher, James Cromwell, Steve Railsback, and Chris Potter. His grave was marked on December 3, 2009. The monument proclaimed him to be "The Barefoot Legend" and included a quote from "Paint," a song he wrote and performed as the theme to Sonny Boy, as an epitaph.
Awards and honors
1966 Theatre World Award, Royal Hunt of the Sun
1974 TP de Oro,Spain. Best Foreign Actor, Kung Fu
1997 Gold Star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, Television
1998: Honoree — The 16th Annual Golden Boot Awards (along with brothers Keith and Robert)
2005: Action On Film International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award — First annual recipient
2005: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, Saturn Award, Best Supporting Actor, Kill Bill
The Spirit of Shaolin. Boston: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0804817510. (See Shaolin Kung Fu) (1991)
Endless Highway. Boston: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 1885203209. (autobiography, 1995)
David Carradine's Tai Chi Workout. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805037675. Co-authored with David Nakahara. (Alternate transliteration of "Tai Chi" is Tai chi chuan) (1995)
David Carradine's Introduction to Chi Kung. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805051007. Co-authored with David Nakahara. (Alternate transliteration is Qigong) (1997)
The Kill Bill Diary: The Making of a Tarantino Classic as Seen Through the Eyes of a Screen Legend. Harper Publishing. ISBN 0060823461. (2006)
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