David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” whose career roared back to life when he played the assassin-turned-victim in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” was found dead Thursday in Thailand. Police said he appeared to have hanged himself. He was 72.
The officer responsible for investigating the death said that the actor had hanged himself with a cord from the suite’s curtains. Police said Carradine’s body was taken to a hospital for an autopsy that would be carried out today.
Carradine was in Bangkok shooting the film “Stretch,” said his manager, Chuck Binder.
In all, Carradine appeared in more than 100 feature films from such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby. One of his prominent early film roles was as singer Woody Guthrie in Ashby’s 1976 biopic “Bound for Glory.” He worked on Broadway before landing a role starring opposite Barbara Hershey in Scorsese’s 1972 “Boxcar Bertha” and had a relationship and a son with the actress.
But he was best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest traveling the 1800s American frontier West in the TV series “Kung Fu,” which aired from 1972-75.
He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine’s grandson in the 1990s syndicated series “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”
He returned to prominence in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part saga “Kill Bill.”
The character, the worldly father figure of a pack of crack assassins, was a shadowy presence in 2003’s “Kill Bill Vol. 1.” In that film, one of Bill’s former assassins (Uma Thurman) begins a vengeful rampage against her old associates.
In “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” released in 2004, Thurman’s character comes face to face again with Bill himself. The role brought Carradine a Golden Globe nomination as supporting actor.
Bill was a complete contrast to his TV character Kwai Chang Caine, the soft-spoken refugee from a Shaolin monastery, serenely spreading wisdom and battling bad guys in the Old West. Carradine left after three seasons, saying the show had started to repeat itself.
Born in Hollywood, he was the eldest son of actor John Carradine, the brother of Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine and Michael Bowen and the father of Calista and Kansas Carradine. His nieces Ever Carradine and Martha Plimpton are also thesps.
“My uncle David was a brilliantly talented, fiercely intelligent and generous man. He was the nexus of our family in so many ways and drew us together over the years and kept us connected. I adored him as a child, and as an adult, I admired and respected him,” said Plimpton in a statement.
After “Kung Fu,” Carradine starred in the 1975 cult pic “Death Race 2000.” He starred with Liv Ullmann in Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg” in 1977 and with his brothers in 1980 Western “The Long Riders.”
But after the early 1980s, he spent two decades doing mostly low-budget films and TV guest appearances. On TV, his guest roles included “Gunsmoke” and “The Fall Guy,” and he also appeared in the miniseries “North and South” and its sequel.
He directed the film “Americana” and appeared in films such as “Deathsport,” “The Warrior and the Sorceress” and “Karate Cop.”
Tarantino’s films changed his string of forgettable roles.
“All I’ve ever needed since I more or less retired from studio films a couple of decades ago … is just to be in one,” Carradine told the Associated Press in 2004.
He most recently appeared in “Crank: High Voltage.” Aside from “Stretch,” Carradine had seven other films in various stages of development. He appears in an episode of the Fox series “Mental” slated to air Tuesday.
One constant after “Kung Fu” was Carradine’s interest in Asian herbs, exercise and philosophy. He wrote a personal memoir called “Spirit of Shaolin” and continued to make instructional videos on tai chi and other martial arts.
In the 2004 interview, Carradine talked candidly about his past boozing and narcotics use but said he had put all that behind him and stuck to coffee and cigarettes.
“I didn’t like the way I looked, for one thing. You’re kind of out of control emotionally when you drink that much. It’s time to do nothing but look forward,” he said.
In addition to his three brothers and two daughters, he is survived by his fifth wife, Annie, and son Tom.
(Pat Saperstein contributed to this report.)