David Carradine was an American actor, martial artist, director and musician. He was best known for his roles in the television series ‘Kung Fu’ and film series ‘Kill Bill’. He studied music theory and composition and started his theatre career in San Francisco State University. David Carradine served in the United States Army for a period of two years and then returned to NYC where he began his journey in television with guest appearances in popular TV series such as ‘Ironside’, ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’, ‘Wagon Train’ and ‘The Virginian’. In a film and television career of more than four decades, David Carradine appeared in more than 100 films and acted in dozen TV shows and specials along with numerous stage productions. He revealed all of his life details in his autobiography ‘Endless Highway’ which was critically acclaimed. He won several awards and honors for his work in films, television and theatre and was also recognized as the hardest working member of his profession in Hollywood.
Childhood & Early Life
David Carradine was born on December 8, 1936 in California as John Arthur Carradine. He was addressed as Jack by his family members.
He was the oldest son of Ardanelle Abigail and veteran Hollywood actor John Carradine. He was a half-brother of Bruce, Keith, Christopher, and Robert Carradine.
David had a turbulent childhood due constant bickering between his parents. Disturbed by the lack of harmony, he tried to commit suicide at the age of five. His parents divorced in 1944 when he was seven.
He shuffled between boarding schools, foster homes and reform schools during his primary education. He graduated from Oakland High School, California.
He attended Oakland Junior College for one year and then transferred to San Francisco State University where he studied music theory, composition and drama. He was inducted in the U.S. Army in 1960.
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David Carradine left U.S. Army after two years and debuted in an episode of an American TV show ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre’ in 1963. He made his feature film debut with ‘Taggart’ in 1964.
His first big break came with ‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun’ (1965), a play by Peter Shaffer. He appeared in a short-lived television series ’Shane’ in 1966 and an episode of ‘Night Gallery’ in 1971 opposite David McCallum.
In 1972, he co-starred as Bill Shelly in the movie ‘Boxcar Bertha’ which was one of Martin Scorsese's earliest films. It was also one of the very few acting collaborations David had with his father.
He starred in his most recognized and appreciated role as Kwai Chang Caine in ABC TV series ‘Kung Fu’ from 1972 to 1975. The show ended when he quit the same to pursue his move career.
In 1975, he appeared as Frankenstein in the movie ‘Death Race 2000’ and portrayed folksinger Woody Guthry in ‘Bound for Glory’ in 1976. He played the role of an alcoholic trapeze artist in the 1977 movie ‘The Serpent’s Egg’.
Apart from acting, he also worked as director and made his directorial debut with three episodes of ‘Kung Fu’. ‘You and Me’ (1975) and ‘Americana’ (1983) were his independent directorial contributions.
David Carradine considers ‘Circle of Iron’ (1978) as his best work. In the movie, he played four different roles which were originally written for Bruce Lee.
He appeared in ‘The Long Riders’ in 1980, ‘The Warrior and the Sorceress’ in 1984 and ‘Kung Fu: The Movie’ in 1986.
He was seen in in ‘North and South’, a miniseries based on American Civil War and ‘North and South, Book II’ in 1985 and 1986 respectively. Thereafter, he starred in the movies ‘Sonny Boy’ in 1989 and ‘Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat’ in 1990.
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He returned to television in 1990s with cameo appearance in television movie ‘The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw’ in 1991. He reprised the role of his character Kwai Chang Caine in ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ (1993-97) and played the grandson of the original character who had the same name.
He made guest appearances in numerous television shows in 2001-2008, such as ‘Queen of Swords’, ‘Lizzie McGuire’, ‘Danny Phantom’ and ‘Kung Fu Killer’. David came to limelight again in 2003-2004 with Quentin Tarantino's sequential series of ‘Kill Bill’ movies.
Apart from being an actor, David Carradine was also martial artist with experience in sword fighting, boxing, and street fighting.
He was also a musician and played instruments, such as piano, guitar, flute and many others. He wrote, sung and recorded songs for his movies ‘Bound for Glory’, ‘Americana’, ‘Sonny Boy’ and many others and wrote various songs for ‘American Reel’ (2003).
He had more than ten films in post-production when he passed away in 2009. Some of them were ‘Dark Fields’ (2009), ‘Bad Cop’ (2009) and ‘All Hell Broke Loose’ (2009).
‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun’ (1965), a play by Peter Shaffer gave David Carradine his first big break and first award.
He is best known for his character Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series ‘Kung Fu’ (1972-75). It was his performance that led to the portrayal of the role again in ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ (1993-97).
His role as Bill in Quentin Tarantino's sequential series of ‘Kill Bill’ movies revived his fame and also earned him awards and honors. The role is considered one of the most iconic performances by an actor till this date.
Awards & Achievements
David Carradine received Theatre World Award in 1966 for ‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun’.
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He was nominated under the category of outstanding continued performance by an actor in a leading role in a drama series in Emmy Awards in 1972 and under the category of best television actor in Golden Globe Awards in 1974 for ‘Kung Fu’.
He received TP de Oro, Spain in 1974 as Best Foreign Actor for ‘Kung Fu’.
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997 and was honored in 1998 at The 16th Annual Golden Boot Awards.
He was awarded with Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 at Action on Film International Film Festival.
He won Saturn Award in 2005 as Best Supporting Actor for Kill Bill: Volume 2.
Personal Life & Legacy
David Carradine had five marriages in his lifetime. He married Donna Lee Becht in December 1960 and the couple had their first daughter, Calista in 1962. His first marriage dissolved in 1968.
He was in a relationship with Barbara Hershey from 1969-75. Hershey gave birth to their son, Free in 1972.
David married his second wife Linda in 1977 and the couple had their daughter, Kansas in 1978. His second marriage also ended in divorce.
His third marriage was to Gail Jensen from 1986 to 1997.
He married Marina Anderson in 1998 and this marriage lasted till 2001.
He then married widowed Annie Bierman on December 26, 2004 and this marriage lasted till his death.
David Carradine was found dead on June 3, 2009 in Park Hotel in central Bangkok, Thailand. His death was speculated as suicide but his autopsy suggested that he died of accidental asphyxiation.