The past year called away some screen notables, including Karl Malden, Van Johnson, Jennifer Jones, and Patrick Swazye, but two deaths struck me particularly hard. One was that of David Carradine, whom I knew, and the other Jacinto Molina, AKA Paul Naschy, the Spanish horror film star whom I hoped to meet. Both men made indelible impressions on me in the dull and dreary 70s, although their unique talents outlasted that decade.
Carradine, of course, became world-famous as the old west-wandering Shaolin monk and warrior Kwai Chang Caine in the 70s television classic Kung Fu. There his brilliant acting struck an almost impossible balance of inner peace against the frontier wilderness, always concealing Caine’s injurious martial arts prowess until the point of physical threat.
Kung Fu was so good, and Carradine so memorable, it could have dampened his post-series career the same way Superman did George Reeves’ (or even Christopher Reeve’s). But in the late 80s I spent three very enjoyable journalistic hours with Carradine, and realized that his interpretive intelligence enriched every role he played. By that time, David had already won acclaim in Rober Corman’s Death Race 200, Hal Ashby’s Bound For Glory (as Woody Guthrie), Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg, and Walter Hill’s The Long Riders. Quentin Tarantino certainly trusted Carradine’s talent and charisma enough to give him the title role in his popular Kill Bill.
When I heard about David’s death in Thailand last June, I was saddened by the loss of him and maddened by the absurdity of his demise.