I’ll never forget meeting David Carradine. It was way back in 1987, in the middle of the night.
He was guest starring on the CTV police drama Night Heat, which had broken through to a summer tryout on CBS at the time and was importing a few big name stars. Carradine was in his trailer, parked under the overpass for the Don Valley Parkway right on King Street. I was working then for TV Guide, and green as grasshopper. It was about 2 a.m. (the cop drama shot over night), and Carradine, dressed in a robe, welcomed me into his trailer by offering me a beer.
When I told him I didn’t drink beer he nearly threw me out. “What–I thought all Canadians drank beer,” he said. He didn’t say much else for a few minutes after that.
We got past that and I got my interview. He was actually an okay dude, remarkably mellow (although at the same time intense) and very cooperative.
Reports of his death in a Bangkok hotel brought those memories back today. The former Kung Fu star apparently hung himself. He was 72.
That hot summer night in ’87, he walked out of his air-conditioned trailer and onto King in his bare feet. Carradine told me at the time that he did the occasional guest star shot “just to cross all those prejudices against doing them.” Being married five time was probably a bit of an incentive, too.
I’m pretty sure I was warned not to mention the name Barbara Hershey; Carradine and Hershey were lovers for years and reportedly had had a very tumultuous relationship. I had already made the beer boo-boo so I wasn’t going anywhere near the Hershey thing.
I remember seeing him standing in the street, kibitzing with Night Heat producer and famed New York cop Sonny Grosso:
Out of the darkness from under the underpass, a downtrodden man with long, stringy hair approached. I wrote at the time that he looked like “the late Howard Hughes.”
Suddenly, toastmaster Grosso beckons him over; even Carradine offers a friendly grin. They recognize guest star Don Francks, on his way to makeup.
Quickly, publicist Bill Vigars springs into action, hustling (Night Heat stars Jeff Wincott, Scott Hylands and others) around Grosso, Carradine and Francks. The noisy gathering is beginning to distract director Rene Bonniere, whose icy glare betrays his distaste.
Assistant director Phil Mead, policing the ersatz police, booms, ‘Quiet please, we’re rolling!’ and the chummy star cluster freezes in an awkward arm-link pose for the still photographer. They all wait obediently for the two-minute take to finish.
Wish I had that photo today. Last time I saw Carradine, he was working the Hollywood Collector’s Show in Burbank. He was standing in a doorway having a smoke, taking a break from signing glossy 8 x 10s from Kung Fu for $20 a pop. This was a few months before Kill Bill opened and he was back in the Hollywood mix.
The guy had seen his share of ups and downs. He was part of a Hollywood acting family and appeared in over 100 feature films. One of his last films was called “My Suicide.” He liked Canadian beer and was wary of non-drinking Canadians. Should have had that beer.