He helped introduce Shaolin Monks and Kung Fu to the western world; he ran guns and fought it out with martial arts legend Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade, and he lead a pack of twisted assassins in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volumes 1 & 2. Though he wasn’t originally a martial artist John Arthur Carradine who would later change his name to David when he took up acting did a lot to bring martial arts into the mainstream. At the age of 72 he was still taking on roles, but sadly on June 4, 2009 he was found dead in his hotel room Bangkok, Thailand where it is believed he hung himself. While people speculate on what happen to the actor we can look back on his career and remember the good times.
Though best known for his work on Kung Fu which aired from 1972-1975 Carradine performed a variety of TV and film roles and even worked with famed director Martin Scorcese in some of his first projects. He also starred in a number of westerns like The Long Riders which allowed him to work with his brothers who played Jessie James’s cohorts the Younger brothers. Despite many good performances and many different roles his performance as a Shaolin Monk is remembered by every child of the 1970’s.
Carradine played Kwai Chang Cainean orphan son of an American man and a Chinese woman who is left at a Shaolin Temple and is raised and trained by the monks. After killing the nephew of the emperor who had murdered his mentor Cainean goes to the United States in search of his half brother and has a number of adventures on America’s western frontier. While many people today know about Kung Fu and the warrior monks who practice the show was groundbreaking in 1970’s America where martial arts wasn’t as nearly common as it is today. Carradine was the first choice for the role, but while he had played tough guys he wasn’t a martial artist, so he worked with Kung Fu instructors and did his best to mimic their techniques.
The show was well received and years later Carradine would return to a new series where he played his former character’s grandson in an all new set of adventures with his police officer son. At the time of the first series though many Asian Americans complained that an Asian action hero was being played by a white man, but as the series developed many received work on the series, and Carradine reached out to the Asian community. While Bruce Lee’s family says the actor and martial artist was the one who originally developed the series those involved with the production of the show say that Carradine was always their first choice though, buy the not yet famous Lee was considered.
Carradine would appear in a number of film roles, but he would return to fame in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volumes 1 & 2. He would take on the role of Bill a shadowy assassin, and former lover of Uma Thurman’s character Beatrix Kiddo an assassin known as “Black Mamba.” Once again he stepped up to the martial arts challenges that came with the role. In the years following the Kill Bill he would continue to work, but now he is no longer with us, but he left us some fun stuff to watch.