David Carradine Biography

David Carradine was an American actor, martial artist, director, and musician. He was best known for his roles in the television series ‘Kung Fu’ and film series ‘Kill Bill.’ He studied music theory and composition and started his theatre career in the ‘San Francisco State University.’ David Carradine served in the United States Army for a period of two years and then returned to NYC where he began his journey in television with guest appearances in popular TV series, such as ‘Ironside,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,’ ‘Wagon Train,’ and ‘The Virginian.’ In a film and television career of more than four decades, David Carradine appeared in more than 100 films and a dozen TV shows and specials, apart from numerous stage productions. He also wrote his autobiography ‘Endless Highway’ which was critically acclaimed. He won several awards and honors for his work in films, television, and theatre. He was also recognized as the hardest working member in Hollywood.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: John Arthur Carradine Jr.

Died At Age: 72


Spouse/Ex-: Annie Bierman (m. 2004), Donna Lee Becht (m. 1960–1968), Gail Jensen (m. 1986–1997), Linda Gilbert (m. 1977–1983), Marina Anderson (m. 1998–2001)

father: John Carradine

mother: Ardanelle Abigail, Ardanelle McCool

children: Calista Carradine, Kansas Carradine, Tom Carradine

Partner: Barbara Hershey (1969 — 1975)

Born Country: United States

Height: 6’0" (183 cm), 6’0" Males

Died on: June 3, 2009

place of death: Bangkok, Thailand

Ancestry: Irish American

Notable Alumni: Oakland Junior College, Oakland High School, San Francisco State College

Cause of Death: Asphyxiation

U.S. State: California

City: Los Angeles

More Facts

education: San Francisco State College, Oakland Junior College, Oakland High School

Childhood & Early Life

David Carradine was born John Arthur Carradine on December 8, 1936, in California, USA. He was addressed as Jack by his family members.

He was the oldest son of Ardanelle Abigail and veteran Hollywood actor John Carradine. Bruce, Keith, Christopher, and Robert Carradine were his half-brothers.

David had a turbulent childhood due to constant bickering between his parents. Disturbed by lack of harmony, he tried to commit suicide at the age of five. His parents divorced in 1944 when he was seven.

He juggled between boarding schools, foster homes, and reform schools while receiving his primary education. He graduated from ‘Oakland High School,’ California.

He attended ‘Oakland Junior College’ for a year and then transferred to ‘San Francisco State University’ where he studied music theory, composition, and drama. He was inducted to the U.S. Army in 1960.


David Carradine left U.S. Army after two years and debuted in an episode of an American TV show titled ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre’ in 1963. He made his feature film debut with ‘Taggart’ in 1964.

His first big break came in 1964 when he became part of ‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun,’ a play by Peter Shaffer. He appeared in a short-lived television series titled ‘Shane’ in 1966. He then appeared in an episode of ‘Night Gallery’ in 1971 alongside David McCallum.

In 1972, he starred as ‘Bill Shelly’ in the movie ‘Boxcar Bertha,’ which was one of Martin Scorsese’s earliest films. It was also one of the very few acting collaborations David had with his father.

He starred in his most recognized and appreciated role as ‘Kwai Chang Caine’ in the ABC TV series ‘Kung Fu’ from 1972 to 1975. The show ended when he left the show to pursue his movie career.

In 1975, he appeared as ‘Frankenstein’ in the movie ‘Death Race 2000.’ He portrayed folksinger ‘Woody Guthrie’ in ‘Bound for Glory’ in 1976. He played the role of an alcoholic trapeze artist in the 1977 movie ‘The Serpent’s Egg.’

Apart from acting, he also worked as director and made his directorial debut with three episodes of ‘Kung Fu.’ ‘You and Me’ (1975) and ‘Americana’ (1983) were his independent directorial contributions.

David Carradine considers ‘Circle of Iron’ (1978) as his best work. In the movie, he played four different roles which were originally written for Bruce Lee.

He appeared in ‘The Long Riders’ in 1980. He was then seen in ‘The Warrior and the Sorceress’ in 1984 and ‘Kung Fu: The Movie’ in 1986.

In 1985, he was seen in ‘North and South,’ a miniseries based on the American Civil War. In 1986, he appeared in ‘North and South, Book II.’ Thereafter, he starred in movies like ‘Sonny Boy’ in 1989 and ‘Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat,’ also in 1989.

He returned to television in the 1990s. He made a cameo appearance in the television movie ‘The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw’ in 1991. He reprised his role as ‘Kwai Chang Caine’ in ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ (1993-97).

From 2001 to 2008, he made guest appearances in numerous television shows, such as ‘Queen of Swords,’ ‘Lizzie McGuire,’ ‘Danny Phantom,’ and ‘Kung Fu Killer.’ David hogged the limelight again from 2003 to 2004 with Quentin Tarantino’s sequential series of ‘Kill Bill’ movies.

Apart from being an actor, David Carradine was also a martial artist with experience in sword fighting, boxing, and street fighting.

He was also a musician and played instruments, such as piano, guitar, and flute among many other instruments. He wrote, sung, and recorded songs for his movies ‘Bound for Glory,’ ‘Americana,’ and ‘Sonny Boy.’ He also wrote various songs for ‘American Reel’ (2003).

He had more than ten films in various stages of post-production when he passed away in 2009. Some of them were ‘Dark Fields’ (2009), ‘Bad Cop’ (2009), and ‘All Hell Broke Loose’ (2009).

His final movie was ‘The American Connection’ (2017) in which he played ‘General Rusfnar.’

Major Works

‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun’ (1965), a play by Peter Shaffer, gave David Carradine his first big break and first award.

He is best known for playing ‘Kwai Chang Caine’ in the TV series ‘Kung Fu’ (1972-75). His performance led to his reprisal of the same role in ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ (1993-97).

His role as ‘Bill’ in Quentin Tarantino’s sequential series of ‘Kill Bill’ movies revived his fame and also earned him awards and honors. The role is considered one of the most iconic performances by an actor.

Awards & Achievements

David Carradine received ‘Theatre World Award’ in 1966 for ‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun.’

He was nominated under the ‘Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama Series’ category at the 1972 ‘Emmy Awards.’ In 1974, he was nominated for the ‘Golden Globe Award’ under the ‘Best Television Actor’ category for ‘Kung Fu.’

He received ‘TP de Oro, Spain’ in 1974 for ‘Best Foreign Actor’ for ‘Kung Fu.’

He received a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 1997 and was honored in 1998 at the 16th ‘Annual Golden Boot Awards.’

He was presented with the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 2005 at the ‘Action on Film International Film Festival.’

He won ‘Saturn Award’ in 2005 for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for ‘Kill Bill: Volume 2.’

Personal Life & Legacy

David Carradine was married five times. He married Donna Lee Becht in December 1960 and the couple had a daughter Calista in 1962. His first marriage dissolved in 1968.

He was in a relationship with Barbara Hershey from 1969 to 1975. Hershey gave birth to their son Free in 1972.

David married Linda in 1977 and the couple had a daughter named Kansas in 1978. His second marriage ended in divorce.

His third marriage was to Gail Jensen, which lasted from 1986 to 1997.

He married Marina Anderson in 1998 and this marriage lasted till 2001.

He then married Annie Bierman on December 26, 2004, and this marriage lasted till his death.

David Carradine was found dead on June 3, 2009, at ‘Park Hotel’ in Bangkok, Thailand. His death was speculated as suicide but the autopsy report suggested that he died of accidental asphyxiation.

David Carradine Movies

1. Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (2011)

(Crime, Action)

2. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

(Action, Crime, Thriller)

3. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

(Crime, Thriller, Action)

4. The Long Goodbye (1973)

(Thriller, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Drama)

5. Bound for Glory (1976)

(Music, Biography, Drama)

6. Mean Streets (1973)

(Crime, Drama, Thriller)

7. Kandisha (2008)

(Thriller, Fantasy, Horror, Crime, Mystery)

8. The Long Riders (1980)


9. The Serpent’s Egg (1977)

(Drama, Thriller, Mystery)

10. My Suicide (2009)

(Comedy, Drama)