June 4th, 2009
01:21 PM ET
More than anybody (with the exception of Bruce Lee) David Carradine was responsible for introducing Americans to martial arts with the show "Kung Fu". Even more importantly, he gave a lot of people their first introduction to eastern philosophy through the series. Not bad considering it was a pretty cheesy show.
"Kung Fu" hit the air in 1972, a time when a TV program could make a huge cultural impact because there were so few viewing options (only three networks, no cable, satellite, internet, etc.). The show's whiff of the "ancient wisdom of the east" hit at the perfect time, as young Americans were re-evaluating the values they had inherited from their parents.
Unfortunately for Carradine, he became so identified with his role as a Shoalin Monk that he didn't have much of a career afterwards. It was left to Quentin Tarantino to remind everyone that Carradine was an actor of depth, by casting him in "Kill Bill". The mixture of Old West and Far East in that film was a sly nod to Carradine's earlier work in "Kung Fu".
His body was found in a Bangkok, Thailand hotel room. Oddly fitting. In the end he couldn't escape the mysterious east.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Tonight on Larry King Live, an exclusive with Quentin Tarantino, Rob Schneider, Vivaca Fox and close friends on David Carradine's death. CNN, 9 p.m. ET.
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