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FAST FACTS: David Carradine Biography

David Carradine appeared in over one hundred films

Carradine was born Dec. 8, 1936 in Hollywood

Carradine was the eldest son of actor John Carradine

1972 to 1975: Carradine played Kwai Chang Caine on tv series Kung Fu

2005: Carradine won Saturn Award for best supporting actor for Kill Bill: Vol. 2

A leading and supporting player of TV and movies, David Carradine rose to fame with his iconic role, Kwai Chang Caine, the half-Asian student of life on the popular TV series, "Kung Fu" (ABC, 1972-75) - a role he would go on to reprise for a syndicated series in the late 1990s. The son of legendary actor John Carradine, he excelled at playing villains in action and terror films which, unfortunately, often carried a "soon to be on a video shelf near you" proviso. Almost as famous as his Kung Fu persona, was his psychedelic lifestyle and devotion to Eastern philosophy, particularly in the 1960s and '70s when Carradine seemed more engaged in his alternative lifestyle than in furthering his career - with the possible exceptions of his starring role as folk singer Woody Guthrie in the Oscar-nominated "Bound for Glory" (1976) and a turn in Ingmar Bergman's confusing "The Serpent's Egg" (1977).

Carradine had a restless youth, born Dec. 8, 1936 in Hollywood but raised in Manhattan, NY, the eldest son in an acting brood that included famous half-siblings, Keith and Robert. Educated at San Francisco State University, he studied music theory and composition. It was while writing music for the drama department's annual revues, that he discovered his own passion for the stage, joining a Shakespearean repertory company and learning his craft on his feet. It was while sporadically attending college, during which he worked as a manual laborer, that he began openly experimenting with drugs. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he found work in New York as a commercial artist and got his first taste of fame on Broadway in "The Deputy" and "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" opposite Christopher Plummer. In 1964, he also made his feature film debut with a bit part in "Taggart," a western based on a novel by Louis L'Amour. Carradine next inherited Alan Ladd's role of a fading gunslinger for the small screen version of "Shane" (ABC, 1966) - a production that failed in the ratings, despite predictions to the contrary.

Nevertheless, the actor found constant employment in a string of forgettable films, with the occasional masterpiece. Martin Scorsese tapped the actor to play a railroad union organizer in "Boxcar Bertha" (1972) and then cast him in a small but memorable role as a drunk who is shot while urinating in one of Scorsese's first classics, "Mean Streets" (1973). By the time the latter was released, Carradine was starring as the Martial artist on the popular TV series, "Kung Fu." The part catapulted Carradine to a whole new level, and so began the actor's life-long obsession with the Martial arts - an interest which would years later, result in the release of several exercise videos teaching the martial arts of Tai chi and Qi Gong exercises, which the actor would produce and star in. After only three seasons on his star-making show, he left to pursue a film career.

Moving behind the camera, Carradine directed and starred in the little seen "You and Me" (1975). After his success with "Bound for Glory", it appeared as if Carradine was headed for more mainstream movie stardom, but his subsequent vehicles were lacking. Only Walter Hill's 1980 western, "The Long Riders" - which used the gimmick of teaming filmdom's real-life brother acts - the Carradines, the Quaids and the Keachs) - onscreen as brothers, was above-average. His second attempt in the director's chair, "Americana" (1983) also met with a less than stellar reception.

As an actor, however, Carradine continued to churn out genre fare to varying degrees of success. On the big screen, he was the villain tracked by Chuck Norris in "Lone Wolf McQuade" (1982) and an evil German soldier in "The Misfit Brigade/Wheels of Terror" (1987). Carradine continued his low-grade film streak with such efforts as "Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat" (1990), "Dune Warriors" (1991) and "Waxwork II" (1992). In 1997, he filmed roles in "Macon County Jail," opposite Ally Sheedy and "The New Swiss Family Robinson" with Jane Seymour. From there, Carradine's career continued seemingly on autopilot through a variety of forgettable, direct-to-video thrillers, low-grade foreign films and TV guest spots which almost always played on his familiar "Kung Fu" past. Occasionally those guest spots would showcase Carradine's largely untapped dramatic abilities and charisma, such as his recurring guest spots as Andrew Weller on the second season of the legal drama "Family Law" (CBS, 1999-2002). Surprisingly, he also ran against type by guesting as an old friend of Hilary Duff's father, Sam McGuire - in fact, Carradine's real-life half-brother Robert - on an episode of the Disney Channel's frothy tween sit-com "Lizzie McGuire" (2001-04).

Back to his bad-ass Martial arts roots, thanks to director and fan Quentin Tarantino, Carradine finally got a chance to both revisit past glories and reinvent himself - much like Tarantino's other hand-picked then past-their-prime-stars, John Travolta and Robert Forster before him - when he was cast as the enigmatic assassin leader Bill in the director's violent exploitation homage, "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (2003) and its sequel, "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" (2004). The movies were a dual sensation, bringing to the actor a new legion of younger fans who were not even alive during Carradine's "Kung Fu" run. Suddenly cool again, Carradine began landing commercial spots and high profile guest appearances on such hip TV shows as the Jennifer Garner spy series "Alias" (ABC, 2001- ) and the Patricia Arquette thriller, "Medium" (NBC, 2005- ).

[Source: Studio System]

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In a career that has spanned more than four decades, actor David Carradine has appeared in over one hundred films, dozens of television movies and specials, and numerous stage productions. In what must surely have come as a shock to his fans, Carradine admitted in Spirit of Shaolin: A Kung Fu Philosophy: "I was a fake. When I left the [television] series [Kung Fu ] after four years I knew nothing about kung fu. At the time I did not understand it at all, and I was faking it all the time even though I knew the moves. I am an actor. We just thought we had a good story." Carradine had clearly fooled an entire nation: in the enormously popular television series, which ran from 1972 to 1975, he played Kwai Chang Caine, a nineteenth-century Chinese immigrant to America who—despite his meek demeanor and unassuming appearance—is a master of the martial arts. Moreover, as Ty Burr noted in Entertainment Weekly, Caine embodied an "ass-kicking hippie Zen" ethic that was perfectly suited to the moment. The series, along with the films of Bruce Lee, helped popularize kung fu and other martial arts in the West, but Carradine himself, as he revealed in Spirit of Shaolin, only studied the skills and philosophy of Eastern self-defense much later. However, by the time he returned to the small screen in a reprise of his most popular role, playing Caine's grandson in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, he had not only learned aspects of the discipline, but had made several instructional videotapes on the subject.

With the autobiography Endless Highway, Carradine delineates what a reviewer in Publishers Weekly called a "dreary catalogue of human disaster"—that is, his own life story. Though he enjoyed a seemingly charmed youth as son of veteran character actor John Carradine, he reveals that he tried to kill himself as early as the age of five. Things became much worse after his parents divorced, as he was farmed out to foster homes, boarding schools, and a reform school. Burr noted that it is "hard to muster sympathy" over some of Carradine's romantic problems, such as choosing between two beautiful actresses—Barbara Hershey, mother of a son by Carradine, and Season Hubley—and several reviewers faulted Carradine for placing the blame for all his problems on others. Yet even these critics extolled the writing and Carradine's storytelling ability: a reviewer in Publishers Weekly called Endless Highway "breezy and anecdotal and ... good-natured," while Burr pronounced it "a pithy, occasionally stirring read." Mike Tribby in Booklist was unqualified in his praise for what he called an "exhaustive and intensely personal" book containing "600-plus pages of good reading."

A self-proclaimed Hollywood "outsider," Carradine saw his film career languish for nearly two decades until director Quentin Tarantino chose the actor for a lead role in his two-part martial arts revenge film Kill Bill, which also starred Uma Thurman. In fact, Tarantino, a longtime Carradine fan, drew inspiration for the character of Bill from Endless Highway. "The result," Carradine told Entertainment Weekly contributor Josh Rottenberg, "is that Bill has a lot of my character in it—or at least a lot of what Quentin thinks my character is." The film put Carradine back in the limelight, and he earned a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor. He chronicled his nearly two-year stint on the project in the 2006 work The Kill Bill Diary: The Making of a Tarantino Classic as Seen Through the Eyes of a Screen Legend, a "mixture of autobiography, biography, and behind-the-scenes account," observed David Pitt in Booklist. In the work, Carradine offers praise for the director and his costars, describes his exhausting training sessions with fight choreographer Yuen Wu Ping, and shares his thoughts about acting, creativity, and the film industry. According to a Kirkus Reviews critic, The Kill Bill Diary "is by turn engrossing, funny and surprisingly moving as it records both the impossibly difficult realities of personal-yet-epic filmmaking and an under-appreciated talent's return to professional grace."

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Original name, John Arthur Carradine; born December 8, 1936, in Hollywood, CA; son of Richmond Reed Carradine (also known as John Carradine; an actor) and Ardanelle Abigail McCool; half-brother of Keith Ian Carradine (an actor and songwriter), Bruce Carradine (an actor), Robert Carradine (an actor), and Michael Bowen (an actor); uncle of Martha Plimpton (an actress) and Ever Carradine (an actress); married Donna Lee Becht (an actress and dancer), December, 1960 (divorced); married Linda Gilbert, February 2, 1977 (divorced, 1983); married Gail Jensen (an actress, manager, producer, and songwriter), December 4, 1988 (divorced, 1997); married Coco d'Este (also known as Marina Anderson; an actress); February 20, 1998 (divorced December 12, 2001); married Annie Bierman, December 26, 2004; children: (first marriage) Calista Miranda (an actress); (with actress Barbara Hershey; also known as Barbara Seagull) Tom (a special effects artist; also known as Free); (second marriage) Kansas (an actress); (fifth marriage) four stepchildren. Education: Attended Oakland Junior College, San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), and University of California, Berkeley; studied acting, dialects, voice, piano, music theory and composition, tap, ballet, martial arts, fencing, aerobatic flying, horsemanship, and fast draws. Politics: "Jeffersonian Democrat." Religion: Christian Scientist. Avocational Interests: Music, songwriting, filmmaking, sculpting, painting, creating computer art, philosophy, art, science, horses, children, French, the American Revolution, tai chi, baseball, coaching athletes of the Special Olympics. Military/Wartime Service: U.S. Army, 1960-62. Memberships: Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors' Equity Association, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Rifle Association, Fraternal Order of Police (honorary member)

AWARDS

Theatre World Award, most promising personality, 1965, for The Royal Hunt of the Sun; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding continued performance by an actor in a leading role in a drama series, 1972, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best television actor—drama, 1974, both for Kung Fu; National Board of Review Award, best actor, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor—drama, both 1976, both for Bound for Glory; Man of the Year Award, Fraternal Order of Police, 1985; Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, miniseries, or motion picture made for television, 1986, for North and South; received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1997; Capri Legend Award, 2004; Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture, and Saturn Award for best supporting actor, 2005, both for Kill Bill: Vol. 2; Directors Fortnight Award, Cannes International Film Festival, for Americana.

[Source: Gale's Biographical Resource Center,Video: John Kerwin Show - David Carradine interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UAi-ReXmbk]

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