David Carradine (December 8, 1936 – June 3, 2009) was an American
actor best known for his work in the 1970s television series Kung Fu and
more recently in the Kill Bill films. He appeared in more than 100 feature
films and was nominated four times for a Golden Globe Award.
David was born in Hollywood, California, the son of Ardanelle Abigail (née McCool; 1911-1989) and noted American actor John Carradine. He was the half-brother of Bruce, Keith, Christopher and Robert Carradine, as well as the uncle of Ever David and Martha Plimpton. David had Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, German, Spanish, Italian, Ukrainian and Cherokee ancestry. David attended Oakland Junior College and later studied drama at San Francisco State College before working as an actor on stage and in television and cinema. He changed his given name to David after starting his career.
Early roles from 1963-64 included guest performances on TV shows of then-popular genres, anthology series and westerns. These included episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Virginian and Wagon Train. He made his feature film debut in 1964 in Taggart, a western based on a novel by Louis L'Amour. Moving to the Broadway stage, he appeared in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, a play by Peter Shaffer about the destruction of the Inca empire by conquistador Francisco Pizarro. David won a Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance in 1965. He returned to TV in the series Shane, a 1966 western based upon a 1949 novel of the same name and previously filmed in 1953. In 1972, he starred as 'Big' Bill Shelly in one of Martin Scorsese's earliest films Boxcar Bertha, costarring Barbara Hershey.
David starred as Kwai Chang Caine on the hit TV series Kung Fu (1972–1975) and was nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe Awards. He earned critical praise as folksinger Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory (1976) and won a National Board of Review Award for Best Actor, in addition to being nominated for a Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle Award. He played Abel Rosenberg in The Serpent's Egg (1977), set in post-World War I Berlin, the only Hollywood film made by legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.
In 1983, he narrated the PBS anthropology series "Faces of Culture".
He appeared in a supporting role in North and South, a miniseries about the American Civil War with a large cast that included Patrick Swayze in a leading role. It was telecast in November 1985 and spawned two sequel miniseries. David was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. He also appeared in North and South, Book II, telecast in May 1986.
In 1986, David appeared in the TV movie Kung Fu: The Movie, reprising his role as Kwai Chang Caine. Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee, in his acting debut) portrayed his son.
The same year, David appeared on the Steven Spielberg-created series Amazing Stories, in the episode "Thanksgiving".
Early in the decade, he was a spokesperson for Lipton ("This ain't no sippin' tea") in a memorable TV ad where he paid homage not only to Kung Fu but also The Three Stooges. He returned to series TV in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993–97) as the grandson of his original character.
In 1999, he portrayed Tempus, a powerful demon with the ability to manipulate time, on the series Charmed.
In 2001, he appeared in an episode of the Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire (on which his brother Robert was a regular performer). Also in 2001, he provided the voice for Lo Pei, the ancient warrior responsible for Shendu's petrification on the animated series Jackie Chan Adventures. In 2002, David voiced a character on King of the Hill in the episode Returning Japanese, portraying Hank's Japanese half-brother. In 2003, he appeared as Conrad on the series Alias.
In 2003, he produced and starred in several instructional videos on the martial arts of Tai chi and Qi Gong. These made him a natural as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004).
In 2005, he took over hosting duties from his brother Keith on Wild West Tech on the History Channel. On two episodes of the animated series Danny Phantom (2005-2006), he provided the voice for "Clockwork", a supernatural being with the power to control time (similar to his 1999 role on Charmed). In 2006, he became the spokesman for Yellowbook, a publisher of independent telephone directories in the United States.
David also appeared in the music video for "Minus You" by the Southern California band Chapel of Thieves, which was co-directed by YouTube personality Boh3m3. He also worked with the Jonas Brothers in their video Burnin' Up, playing a Kung Fu master, and planned to work with Miley Cyrus. In 2009, he played a 100-year-old Chinese gangster in Crank: High Voltage and guest-starred in the TV show Mental.
David had a son, Free (born 1972; name since changed to Tom) with Barbara Hershey, his domestic partner from 1972 to 1975.
David was married five times. He had a daughter Calista (born 1962) by first wife Donna, and a daughter Kansas (born 1978) by second wife Linda. He had three stepdaughters, Amanda, Madeline and Olivia and a stepson, Max, who were all children of his fifth wife Annie Bierman from a previous relationship.
Each of Carradine's first four marriages ended in divorce. On December 26, 2004, he married Annie Bierman at the seaside Malibu home of his friend, Michael Madsen. Vicki Roberts, his attorney and longtime friend of his wife, performed the ceremony.
According to ex-wife Marina Anderson in an interview with Access Hollywood, "There was a dark side to David, there was a very intense side to David. People around him know that." Previously in her divorce filing she had claimed that "It was the continuation of abhorrent and deviant sexual behavior which was potentially deadly. His deviate behavior includes an incestuous relationship with a very close family member, which permeated our marriage. This is to his admission and the admission of the person involved."
On June 4, 2009, David was found dead in his room at the Swissôtel Nai Lert Park Hotel on Wireless Road, near Sukhumvit, in central Bangkok, Thailand. A police official said David was found hanging by a rope in the room's closet, and the Bangkok Post reported that his body was found curled up in the wardrobe with a shoelace tied around his neck. The same officer said: "Under these circumstances we cannot be sure that he committed suicide." David was in Bangkok to shoot his latest movie, Stretch, and was expected to join the film crew for dinner on June 3. The crew noticed his absence when going out, but they assumed that he took a rest because of his age.
Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunand, a Thai forensic pathologist and Director of Central Institute of Forensic Science, stated the incident met four of the criteria for accidental death involving autoerotic asphyxiation leading to an autoerotic fatality. Police Lieutenant General Worapong Chewprecha, Commander of the Metropolitan Police, remarked that the closed circuit television installed within the hotel supported the theory that no other persons were involved with the death. Carradine's representative and family members told the press that they believed the death to be accidental and not a suicide. It has also been reported that David was found "with his hands tied behind his back." Chuck Binder, Carradine's manager of six years, indicated neither suicide nor accident was the likely cause since "the family has been told Carradine's hands were immobilized (behind his back) by the rope." However this is contradicted by photographic evidence from the scene published by Thai Rath newspaper, showing "hands apparently bound together above the head".
On June 5, the David family lawyer Mark Geragos spoke on Larry King Live and dismissed claims of suicide, stating instead that David Carradine could have been murdered by a secret sect of kung fu assassins, after it was revealed that David had been attempting to uncover groups working in the martial-arts underworld; however it is highly unlikely that this is the case and was more likely an attempt to play down the likelihood that David killed himself during masturbation.
Two of Carradine's ex-wives (Gail Jensen and Marina Anderson) stated that his sexual interests included the practice of self-bondage.
Carradine's funeral was held on June 13, 2009 in Los Angeles.
This David Carradine Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub