[more photos below]
By Mical Welles
It was a rainy, almost storming, Tuesday night, around 11:00pm, when I stopped in a shell gas station on Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana. It was a few days after my husband’s death and I was getting gas after driving aimlessly for hours. I noticed a tall and slim man get out of a red Lamborghini, with a huge and jolly dog walking right next to him. The dog seemed full of life and eager to please, while his owner reflective and gloomy. He entered into the shell store and asked for 3 packs of cigarettes and $20 worth of gas for his car. The smile on his face was warm and unpretentious, and I felt at ease asking him if he was the actor who played in the Kong Fu series. He bowed his head. Looking at him closely I could tell that the soft expression on his face revealed many lines of age heavy and individuality uneasy. There was sorrow and definite pain, yet endless warmth and a unique energy. I asked if we could meet and maybe do an article on him for an Israeli newspaper. He thought it was a great idea and gave me his phone numbers.
David was waiting outside playing with his dog “Thunder” and getting some tips from his physical fitness coach. He welcomed me to his “modest habitat” and said he was ready to talk about anything. I asked him about his life, and what was going on with his career.
“There is nothing that I love more than writing and doing music. Making music is my real calling. It is what I love to do. Acting? Well, that too, but not in the same way. There is real art and there’s acting. They are not the same. Even my father was a sculptor first and an actor by force of circumstances. Like Marlon Brando always said, acting is in many ways shameful. All you do is play someone else’s life.” I could tell that David was missing a world where one is not measured by success or monetary gain, but rather by the force of one’s creative force and willingness to share it. His eyes were bright when he took his guitar and played a song he has written a few years ago. With a voice of piercing sensitivity and a deep sound of a dimension unknown, he sang these words, “And he kept loving…they all could never know…what it really meant to him…alone…tonight” His smile faded into that special glare of seriousness that left you feeling out of place.
When I asked David of his marriages and children, his face turned unsettled. He offered to go out and get a drink before we get into this heavy and unresolved area in his life. “I need a drink or two or three before I can get into my adult parts of living. It’s like I missed the beat of serious accounting and in many ways forgot to grow up.” After an hour of mixing drinks and laughing hysterically at the idea of him playing Charles Manson in a movie on the 60’s narrated by him, we went into discussing his life, but he had to make this point before: “Don’t let my height bother you. I have no problem playing short men. There were so many times when I actually felt short, feels short, knows short…” And again, I couldn’t help but crack up and laugh.
Back in his house off Melrose, he agreed to talk about his relationships and children:
“I was never really in tune with my wives as a man committed to a relationship beyond and at the expense of everything else. It’s not in me. Got no nurse David engraved on my heart. The role of a father is also something I never really took to. I love my children, but it took more than I was able to give to be right with them. Now we are doing much better. There is an openness that was never there before. They are grown and not influenced by the dusky bitterness of their mothers. Oscar Wilde said that women ought to be loved and not understood, and I agree. When love isn’t there anymore, a smart man rushes out the door. I didn’t. And that’s where I was wrong and my troubles were born. I always stayed too long. When it’s not there to give, get the hell out, and I stayed to get punished. Again and again and again.”
David Carradine always felt real to me and in no way a go getter, a pusher or a greedy bustard who will step on anyone for a part or a better deal. “There are very few things that I will fight for and they all have to do with my art. I will fight for my writing not to be edited and for my music not to be touched, but I will not deal my life for a better price or stardom. To hell with this business if you have to turn into a pusher of your own talents. This race, girl, can only turn vulgar and ugly and soon, very soon, a stranger to yourself. I am ready to let the Hollywood ship sail without me into the sunset of bright endings and senseless violence. I want something moving and powerful. I need it.” I told him that I agreed with him completely. For no reason we started laughing again and he ordered me to stand up and allow some marshal art “to sink into my nervous Jewish constitution”. His moves were so graceful, that he felt to be holding the secret of light and darkness. He was able to jump with no hesitation and preparation with such completeness of movement, that he broke the laws of gravity through motion. By now there were many guests in his back yard, all came to have a glass of wine and hear David calm words of being and letting it be. There was no malice or bitterness in this man and it filled his friends up with a certain disposition they were blind to a few minutes before.
A few days passed and David moved to an apartment in Hollywood Hills. He invited me to come and share the gorgeous view. I arrived the next day with my daughter Liora. She brought her poetry with her, and hoped that David will look at it and give her some fruitful criticism. He waited for us downstairs with Thunder and we all took a walk together. Tears filled up his brown eyes when he read the poems Liora gave him. He copied one of them and said that this he wants read in his memory when he’s dead and gone. I’d like to share this poem with you:
I swan in your oceans
And sailed on your seas!
I discovered the nature
Of your motion
And climbed up on your trees.
Your purity echoed my name
With the sound of running waters
As little children played their game
While men were in war to slaughter!
I chased your butterflies
And run on your fields
Touching the colors of your disguise
Where everything I felt was healed.
I cried beside your rivers
Searching for your voice
And in the realm of my surrender
You gave me the freedom
Now I lie underneath your stars
And die beneath your love
My grasp does not reach too far
But I can still see
Your world above.
During the hours we spent in his apartment, David showed us his art work and his collection of guitars. “I am always working on something. As far as the movie business is concerned, there something I working on with Terantino that still needs a momentum and a location and many other seasonings.” He would not share with the story idea in any details, and seemed to have mixed feelings regarding this project. This movie, by the way, turned into KILL BILL a year or so later, a terrible movie of revenge turning into a celebrated illness of violence and mental decay. I was never able to see David as the hero Bill who could not turn back the devil within into the powerful nature of a Shaolin priest. It was almost more befitting for him to play Charles Manson . From Kong Fu to Kill Bill is the enigma of David Carradine, for in many ways what we do and who we act, turns our constitution right or wrong.
Two or three months into our friendship, I introduced David to Annie Bierman. They got married and I moved to Israel. Our friendship in a way faded.
Let us all try to remember David Carradine as a man with no frame to his portrait and no category to his being. A beautiful soul and a generous heart, at times looking the wrong way, but always loving and wishing well.
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