Farewell to David Carradine, star of many movies, but to me always remembered as Kwai Chang Caine, the soft-spoken, philosophical half-Chinese, half-American Shao-Lin monk in the 1970s series "Kung Fu". Carradine's Caine was my first exposure to martial arts of the Eastern variety, and -- though the depiction in that series was poor in many ways by today's standards -- he was the one who made the martial arts something "cool" to me, something that went beyond (as Ed Gruberman would say) "Beating People Up". The imagery from that show permeated the perceptions of our culture -- and, I am pretty sure, right back through the Japanese, Hong Kong, and other cultures where the martial arts began. The Wise Old Masters (including the Blind Man who can outfight the sighted ones), the philosophical underpinnings changing the way you perceive the world, the seeker after peace and unity who is always forced into violence, these are things Carradine and Kung Fu first brought to me, and I suspect to a whole generation of Americans. My love of anime undoubtedly draws upon some of that first perception as well.
Carradine performed in many other productions, including a TV revival/reimagining of Kung Fu in I think the early 90s ("Kung Fu: The Legend Continues"), but in more recent years was best known for his depiction of the stylish, complex, dangerous master of assassins "Bill" in the Tarantino duology "Kill Bill".
According to initial reports, Carradine hanged himself in his hotel room. Why he would have done this is not known at this time, but if true it would be a terrible blow for those who knew him and cared for him, and it's very saddening to think that he chose to exit that way, without even a word or gesture to let people know that he felt his time was up.
Given that it occurred in Thailand, and given other events involving actors in the same general subgenre, I would also be unsurprised to hear rumors that he was killed for some bizarre reason; to this day there's speculation about the death of Bruce and Brandon Lee, for instance.
Still, this is a sad day for me, and I salute Carradine's work and its influence on me and others. May you find a happier place, Grasshopper.