Thursday, June 4, 2009

David Carradine, Star of TV’s ‘Kung Fu,’ Dies at 72

David Carradine, whose starring role in the television series “Kung Fu” made him a self-described evangelist for the martial arts on screen and in life, has died. He was 72.

Carradine was found dead early this morning local time at the Swissotel Nai Lert Park hotel in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, according to Michael Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. He was found hanging from a rope in what appeared to be a suicide, Pirom Chantrapirom, deputy chief of the Lumpini police station, said in a telephone interview.

He was the son of leading Hollywood actor John Carradine, who died in 1988, and a member of an acting family that also includes his brother, Keith.

Carradine had a long show-business career that included the two “Kill Bill” martial-arts movies, both directed by Quentin Tarantino, in 2003 and 2004, plus more than 100 other films and 30 plays.

His role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk wandering the American West, in TV’s “Kung Fu” (1972-1975) was a turning point in Carradine’s career and life. He had appeared mainly in Westerns since 1963. After the TV series, he immersed himself in martial arts, writing books and making instructional videos as well as appearing in films and TV shows.

“I’m not a master. What I am is an evangelist for the art,” Carradine said in an interview with Bloomberg Television that aired last August.

‘Change Your Life’

Martial arts “can change your life,” he said. “People come up to me every day and say, ‘Your show changed my life.’ I think it can save the world if everybody can get hold of the true message, which has nothing to do with defending yourself or punching people out.”

Carradine was born John Arthur Carradine on Dec. 8, 1936, in Hollywood, California, where his father was part of director John Ford’s company of character actors. His mother was the former Ardanelle McCool, the first of his father’s four wives.

He attended Oakland Junior College, San Francisco State College (now University) and the University of California, Berkeley.

His theater career began when he studied drama at San Francisco State, according to his Web site. He continued to perform in musicals and dramas while in the U.S. Army.

Carradine’s five marriages produced two children. He also had a son with actress Barbara Hershey.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at

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