Biography and Profile of David Carradine

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Rousseau, Robert. "Biography and Profile of David Carradine." ThoughtCo, May. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/david-carradine-profile-2307721. Rousseau, Robert. (2016, May 22). Biography and Profile of David Carradine. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/david-carradine-profile-2307721 Rousseau, Robert. "Biography and Profile of David Carradine." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/david-carradine-profile-2307721 (accessed September 25, 2017).

Why would you be interested in a David Carradine biography? First, you probably saw him play Kwai Chang Caine on the 1970's television series, Kung Fu. Second, you're probably intrigued by the unusual circumstances surrounding his death. Third, isn't his persona on stage about as tied to the martial arts as they come? In other words, if you're interested enough in the arts to find the About Martial Arts website, you've got to be interested in Carradine.

So read on to learn about this renowned actor's life.

David Carradine's Early Years

Carradine was born John Arthur Carradine in Hollywood, California to Ardanelle "Abigail" McCool and actor John Carradine. He was called 'Jack' as a child and was the result of his mother's second marriage of three and his father's first of four. Carradine's early years were difficult. Reinforcing this, he later realized and wrote in an autobiography that his father's wish to have a large family was trumped by the "coat hanger" abortions his mother had without his knowledge. Carradine reported that he tried to commit suicide by hanging following the discovery that he and Bruce (son of his mother and first husband) had different fathers.

Beyond Bruce, Carradine was the half-brother of Keith, Christopher, and Robert Carradine. Unfortunately, his parents' marriage only lasted three years before his mother filed for divorce.

That said, court battles plus his father's decision to leave California to avoid court action when such talk started caused a five year delay between her filing and the divorce being finalized.

Following the divorce, Jack (again, what what the man we know as David Carradine was called as a youngster) eventually joined his father in New York City after he had already remarried.

He then moved between boarding schools, foster homes, and reform schools for the next few years. In addition, he spent some time in Massachusetts, a winter milking cows on a farm in Vermont, and generally spent time with his father as he performed in summer theatres.

To add even more famous names to the mix, Jack was also the uncle of Ever Carradine and Martha Plimpton, and the great-grandson of Methodist evangelical author Beverly Carradine.

High School, College, and Military Years

Eventually, the childhood moves stopped long enough for Carradine to graduate from Oakland High School in California. He then attended Oakland Junior College for a year before transferring to San Francisco State College in order to study drama and music theory. However, his time there was short-lived, as he chose to drop out and hang for a time on San Francisco's North Beach in Venice, collecting unemployment insurance and selling baby pictures. During this time in his life, Carradine was also prosecuted for disturbing the peace, though that hardly stopped the army from drafting him in 1960.

While enlisted he married Donna Lee Becht, a high school sweetheart, and while stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Carradine helped to establish a theater company (the "entertainment unit").

In 1962, he and his wife had daughter Calista. Carradine was eventually honorably discharged after two years in the military.

Acting Heats Up and Jack Carradine Becomes David Carradine

Carradine had done some stage acting in college and, as was noted earlier, continued acting in the military. However, after he left the Army things really began to heat up on that front. In 1963, he made his television debut on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre. Further, he ended up appearing on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Though he made his feature film debut in Taggart in 1964, his breakthrough came in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, a Broadway play by Peter Shaffer. It is this role that helped him land many of his future roles, as he won a Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance in 1965 for it.

From there, Carradine divorced and won roles in television shows and movies like Shane, Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring, and Boxcar Bertha (he collaborated with his father John in this). This would not be the only time that he would find himself working with his father.

It should also be noted that upon leaving the Army, Carradine decided to use the name David Carradine to avoid confusion with his father (upon advisement).

David Carradine As Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu

Carradine is best known for having starred on the ABC hit television series Kung Fu (1972-75). On the show, he played Kwai Chang Caine, a half-Chinese, half-Causasian Shaolin monk with amazing martial arts prowess and wisdom. The old western setting is noteworthy, as was the name Carradine's figure was often referred to as ("Grasshopper").

Carradine was nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe for his role on the series. Later, he would also star in both Kung Fu the movie (1986) and a remake of the original Kung Fu series, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993-97). However, the remake of the show never came close to its earlier popularity. Perhaps playing in was the fact that during his time on the new Kung Fu series, Carradine's alcoholism took over enough that he entered rehab.

Movie and Miniseries Career

Carradine has appeared in too many films to go over. However, some of his more impressive roles were on The Serpent's Egg, Bound for Glory (won a National Board of Review Award for Best Actor), Circle of Iron, The Long Riders, and Kill Bill (1 and 2). Beyond this, he appeared on the miniseries North and South with Patrick Swayze.

Martial Arts Knowledge

Contrary to popular opinion, at the time of the original Kung Fu Carradine had no kung fu experience or training. Instead, he utilized his dancing, boxing, swordfighting, and street fighting skills to help him look the part. Later, Carradine did begin training in kung fu and became good enough to star in multiple instructional videos on Tai Chi and Qi Gong. He learned at first from Kam Yuen and later Rob Moses (a student of Yuen's).

Arrests and Strange Behavior

Carradine was arrested on multiple occasions during his life. Below are some of the instances we know about:

  • In the 1950's, Carradine was arrested for assaulting a police officer (he later pleaded down to disturbing the peace).
  • During his army days he faced court-martial more than once for shoplifting.
  • In 1967, he was arrested for possession of marijuana.
  • Perhaps in a glimpse of things to come, in 1974 Carradine was arrested for attempted burglary and malicious mischief. While influenced by peyote, he started wandering around his neighborhood nude, broke into a neighbor's home, and then accosted two young women. He bled all over their piano after breaking in through the window and cutting himself on it, and allegedly assaulted one of the women while asking if she was a witch. The young woman were later awarded $20,000 in a lawsuit.
  • Carradine was also arrested for possession of marijuana in 1980 while in South Africa. However, he claimed that he was framed during racially tense times there for dancing with Tina Turner.
  • During the 1980's, he was also arrested on multiple occasions for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Personal Life

As was noted earlier, Carradine married Donna Lee Becht shortly after being drafted into the army. They divorced in 1968.

In 1969, Carradine met Barbara Hershey while on the set of Heaven With a Gun. They entered into a romantic relationship shortly thereafter, one that would continue until 1975. During this time they appeared in a nude Playboy spread together in 1972, the same year that Hershey gave birth to their son Free. Contributing to the break up was the fact that Carradine began an affair with Season Hubley during the relationship, someone that he would later become engaged to but would never marry.

In 1977, Carradine married Linda Anne Gilbert. They had a daughter named Kansas together, though she and Carradine also divorced. Carradine also married Gail Jensen from 1988–1997, Marina Anderson from 1998-2001, and Annie Bierman (in 2004).

David Carradine's Death

On June 4, 2009, David Carradine was found dead hanging from a rope dead in a closet at the Swissôtel Nai Lert Park Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

He was in Bangkok shooting his newest film Stretch. Though initially many believed that Carradine had committed suicide, it was later determined that he died due to "accidental asphyxiation." Specifically, many have postulated that his death was a result of autoerotic asphyxiation.

Following his death, two of Carradine's former wives, Gail Jensen and Marina Anderson, indicated that Carradine's sexual interests included the practice of self-bondage.