David Carradine, “Kung Fu” (1936-2009)

David Carradine was a great actor. He was loved by his fans. But his death last week at a Bangkok hotel magnifies the problem of “sex tours” in less developed countries. A grainy photo on the front page of the Thai Rath, a regional newspaper in Thailand, shows a naked body suspended from a clothes bar in a hotel closet. It was purportedly Carradine, his hands bound together above the head and feet on the floor. The face is blacked out and other areas are obscured. The newspaper did not indicate its photo source but the Bangkok Post quoted police sources as saying they believed it was a picture of Carradine’s body taken by a forensics team. The lawyer for Carradine’s family threatened legal action against further distribution.

We all remember him for his role in “Kill Bill” but Carradine is mostly known for imprinting an image as the apogee of hipness. He was TV’s “Kung Fu,” a Chinese western. No such term, actually, since most Chinese believe their entire country is in the far east. No such animal as a Chinese cowboy. The show, quite popular during the 1970s, was about a half-Chinese, half-American Buddhist monk who wanders the gold rush country but doesn’t give a hoot about gold, defends the oppressed but won’t carry a gun.

In real life, Carradine was a gun owner. He enjoyed participating in Cowboy Action Shooting, a growing sport where participants get to wear Old West attire and walk around the shooting range with holstered guns — real guns. We had David Carradine on the cover of our gun magazine and ran a lengthy interview. He was a charming fella.

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