with additional reporting by Adam Rosenberg
Few actors get a chance to make lasting impressions on multiple generations the David Carradine did over the course of his career. The "Kung Fu" and "Kill Bill" star passed away in Thailand at the age of 72 while filming a new project. The real magnificence to his work was that, while he could appear in recent comedic roles like Mookoo in "National Lampoon's Stone Age" or as the ad guru in commercials for Yellow Book, there was always this extensive history for him to build upon. Rather than ever becoming a parody of himself, Carradine carried on throughout his career as a serious, multi-faceted character actor.
He was a movie-lover's actor, a performer who left an indelible mark on everything he did with adeptly conceived roles in even the campiest environments. Carradine worked with movie giants like Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman, and he leaves behind a strong legacy which even the most talented entertainer would be hard-pressed to follow. Here we give you five memorable selections that we'll be watching in the coming days as a tribute to Carradine's long and incredibly worthwhile career.
The Hollywood Young Gun
Carradine already had an impressive collection of roles behind him before he came to "Kung Fu." He feature debut was the 1964 Western "Taggart," a role which likely led to his landing the titular role in the "Shane" TV series two years later. He appeared in a number of other Westerns in TV and film both before and after "Taggart," though he still found the time to book occasional appearances on the like of "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" and "Night Gallery." Notably, Carradine was an early friend to director Martin Scorsese, appearing in his 1972 film "Boxcar Bertha" and then again with a cameo in the director's formative work, "Mean Streets."
The TV Icon
Everything Carradine did prior to 1972 led to him landing the role of Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series "Kung Fu," and in many ways the rest of his career spun off from there as well. In addition to stamping the history of television with a series that has defied derivation, the breakout Caine role turned him into a go-to actor for crafty outsider parts in the decades to come. He distinguished himself in the 70s by keeping busy with film, especially after "Kung Fu" came to an end in 1975. "Death Race 2000," "Thunder and Lightning," "Bound for Glory," "Cannonball!"... the list goes on. He was notably the only American actor to ever star in a film from Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, "The Serpent's Egg" in 1977. If the 60s is where Carradine earned his stripes, the 70s is where he distinguished himself as an actor's actor.
The Returning Master
In addition to coming back to revive his iconic Caine role for the short-lived "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues," Carradine's most well-recognized place for today's generation of theater-goers is his title role in Quentin Tarrantino's "Kill Bill" duology. Appearing as the shadowy antagonist Bill in both films, his performance showed just how aware he was of the characters that became synonymous with his name. Tarantino worked the same magic for Carradine that he did for John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction," exposing a new generation of movie-lovers to the "Kung Fu" star's considerable talents.
How will you remember David Carradine? Which parts defined his career for you? Share your memories in the comment section below!