Saturday, June 6, 2009

RIP David Carradine 1937-2009

Bill’s killed. Caine has self- mutinied. Woody’s bound for the glory hole. Frankenstein has crashed and burned. David Carradine, the most well known scion of the infamous Hollywood family, son of John, brother to Keith and Robert, uncle to Martha Plimpton and Ever Carradine was found dead hanging in a closet in a luxury hotel in Bangkok, with a lasso around his neck, rope around his wrists, and more of it wrapped around his balls, a sad and sudden Eternal Member of the Autoerotic Asphyxiation Club.

Carradine always had a certain aura around him, a Hollywood kid who partied hard yet exuded a Zen-like facade and beatnik-turned-hippy vibe, a remarkably convincing presence in either TV or big screen western landscapes and a cool breeze blowing through countless B-movies and off kilter projects. Children of the 70’s will never forget TV’s Kung Fu (1972-75), a kitsch classic (with the pow-pow, bang-bang, stone-soup near perfect mixed ingredients of action and an overriding theme of non-violence, ancient cultural mumbo-jumb, western codes, peyote-spurred comic book spirtulalism) starring Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a half-Chinese Shaolin monk wandering the old west dispensing justice, grasshopper wisdom, and in-yer-neck kicks. But pop culture mavens know him as the guy who starred in the short-lived television version of Shane in 1966, helped launch Marty Scorsese’s career by headlining the low budget drive-in flick Boxcar Bertha 1972), knocked it outta the park as Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s Bound For Glory (1976), roared across the midnight screens in Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000 (1975), got picked by Ingmar Bergman to star in one of the filmmaker’s only English language efforts (1977’s The Serpent’s Egg--a box office bomb quickly discarded but probably worth rescreening), donned the western gear alongside his two brothers in Walter Hill’s often derided The Long Riders (1980), the director and soundtrack writer of the up-till-now obscure labor of love, Americana (1983), the comeback title figure of ultimate film hipster Quentin Tarantino’s two Kill Bill’s (2003 & 2004), and the man who turned in one of the ultimately coolest cameo’s evuhhh in my personal fave film of all-time, Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973).

Carradine also let an epic and continually dramatic life, drinking hard and ingesting psychedelics, engaging in bar fights and behaving badly on film sets, releasing Tai Chi self-help videos, a massive autobiographical tome (Endless Highway), marrying five times, serving two years in the army and appearing for 261 performances in The Royal Hunt of the Sun on Broadway in the mid-sixties.

Like his one-of-a-kind Daddy John (who managed 229 movie appearances), Carradine (with a paltry 145 movies under his own belt, plus countless small screen roles), the actor was a worker, an earner, a dust covered, no frills, earth-centered, blue collar, time-carding, unrequited character actor of the highest order, and a guy like his brothers-in-arms Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton, or Harvey Keitel managed to occasionally transcend his boots-on-the-ground stylings and showcase his highly personalized brand of American weirdness and through-the-bone wooliness inexplicably up above the title. Constantly working in movies good, bad, indifferent and just plain out there, Carradine brought a rare combo of mysticism, masculinity, and bubbling-just-under-the-surface venom to his steely-and-twinkling eyed version of Henry Fonda-gone-counter-culture role-playing, a left field icon and undeniable original, a cinematic runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb.


mdoggie said...

I have to say I'm sorry to see Kwai Chang Caine go out this way. Sad indeed. For years, when people ask why I got into Asian Medicine/Acupuncture I replied that it was the incessant injuries I sustained through my extended adolescent 20-something years. But lately I've come to realize it was Carradine's portrayal of the quiet, powerful Kwai Chang Caine that is the true origin of my abiding interest in Asian culture and philosophy. I recently purchase the !st season of "Kung Fu" on DVD and as I watched I was certain this series had a profound effect on my 15 year old mind.Of course that is Asian philosophy as presented by two Jewish writers from New York and through the eyes of TV veteran Jerry Thorpe and the lithe dance-trained body of Carradine. Taoism 101 in the wild wild west. Speaking soft peaceful parables whilst kicking ass barefoot. Genius. In any case, I am bowing sadly and with respect towards Thailand.

mattman5000 said...

Favorite Staccato line: "I gotta go over to the White Poodle and talk to a stripper named Sugar Cane."