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Don't get caught in the salacious details. Carradine was better than that Add to ...

lcrosbie@globeandmail.com

Suicide?

The squalid details notwithstanding, I don't believe it.

This was my reaction, and is my conviction, when I learned that the 72-year-old actor David Carradine was rumoured to have killed himself last Thursday, in his luxury suite in Bangkok's Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel.

His wife, Annie, children and friends expressed shock at the initial suggestion that Carradine had killed himself. They cited his happiness, work and "new car" as some good reasons to stick around.

"He had everything going for him," remarked actor Michael Madsen on a hastily assembled Larry King Live panel, that also included actor Rob Schneider and director Quentin Tarantino.

The Carradine family has since asked the FBI to investigate for possible foul play, although there were no signs of forced entry in the hotel suite.

And on Sunday, a Thai paper, appallingly, published a photograph of the dead, naked actor, hanging limply by a rope, it would appear, that has aroused a firestorm of new controversy.

He is in a seated position, yet there is no stool or chair nearby, and his hands are bound in a way that would appear to be impossible to effect on one's own, even with all of the Shaolin arts at his disposal.

If Carradine were murdered, this would rank as strange a homicide as that of Lana Clarkson. It will be a month until we know whether he was murdered or not, due to pokey Thai police work.

Speculation, naturally, about auto-erotic asphyxiation abounds, which would make this celebrity death more similar, in its oddness, to the death of Michael Hutchence, the turbulently gorgeous INXS singer who was discovered, in April of 1997 in his Ritz Carlton hotel room in Sydney, Australia, naked, with a belt nearby and most certainly the victim of his own sexy misadventures.

Yet these are not nice things to discuss about people who are not here any more: Why could the press not have withheld the sordid bits of information around Carradine's demise?

Why did the Smoking Gun website, in the guise of J. Edgar Hoover, start blaring that one of Carradine's ex-wives considered him to be a sexual deviant? The TMZ website is still gossiping like hens about the rope not having a cloth buffer (a de rigueur auto-erotic accessory), and worse, and horribly, the image of the poor man, looking so frail and helpless as the punctum of this squalid scene.

Maybe he was killed; maybe he accidentally killed himself. Maybe even men who have everything going for them struggle with morbid depression. Maybe some hooker strung him up and left him there when his heart failed or he accidentally strangled himself.

What does it matter to us? I understand his intimates wanting justice, but all that we should want is the happy ending he deserved.

A washed-up, admittedly suicidal has-been prior to his stunning turn in Tarantino's Kill Bill series (2003/2004), this death would have appeared, without the films, as a minor lurid item in the back of the supermarket tabloids.

And I am using the term has-been kindly: Carradine was hitherto known only as the star of the freaky, utterly disquieting early seventies TV drama Kung Fu, a show that pulverized together the Wild West and the ancient Orient, and deployed its wandering, lethal star as a countercultural argument against intolerance.

Yet, in Kill Bill, he stepped forward and performed as if he had possessed the stature of Christopher Walken all along (a "wild man" actor Tarantino compares him to) and one could not help wonder where he had been all of our lives.

The revival or invention of Carradine has everything to do with Tarantino, who for so long has lovingly curated a collection of actors whose talent has been poorly managed and seldom fully glimpsed.

Consider his reverence for Uma Thurman, who has never acted as she does for him; for the great but then-dated Pam Grier; for John Travolta. Unlike filmmaker John Waters, who populated his films with hack or C actors as mild practical jokes, in Travolta's case, Tarantino genuinely revered his outstanding and overlooked work in Brian De Palma's 1981 film Blow Out.

Even Tarantino's recent work with Brad Pitt, who is starting to feel like a handsome mannequin in a Palm Beach department store, seems guided by a desire to rescue him from a life largely spent waiting to retrieve and nurture another of Angelina Jolie's - the chilling black widow's - egg sacs.

Tarantino brought this respect and hope to Carradine, allowing him, for the only time in his life, to act with the kind of extravagance that was Kung Fu's demented premise, if far better and bigger.

Now, due to a possible proclivity for the kind of raunch usually hidden in one's closet, Carradine gets to be remembered as a sad old freak, not as the late-blooming, charismatic star Kill Bill pushed forward.

Carradine has been pushed forward and remains In Uncertain Bondage - the name of a Kung Fu episode in which he becomes a female kidnapping victim's hero - now it feels as though he's been kidnapped. His body is now is now in state in Los Angeles, but its terrible end remains in a hotel far away from the stature he was so long in achieving, so well.

 

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