BANGKOK — Actor David Carradine, a born seeker and cult idol who broke through as the willing student called “grasshopper” in the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” and decades later as leader of an assassin squad in “Kill Bill,” was found dead Thursday in Thailand. Police said he appeared to have hanged himself.
The officer responsible for investigating the death, Lt. Teerapop Luanseng, said the 72-year-old actor had been staying in a suite at the luxury Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel.
“I can confirm that we found his body, naked, hanging in the closet,” Teerapop said. He said police suspected suicide.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday. “We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and his loved ones,” he said.
Carradine came from an acting family. His father, John, made a career playing creepy, eccentric characters in film and on stage. His brothers Keith, Robert and Bruce also became actors. Actress Martha Plimpton is Keith Carradine’s daughter.
“My Uncle David was a brilliantly talented, fiercely intelligent and generous man. He was the nexus of our family in so many ways, and drew us together over the years and kept us connected,” Plimpton said Thursday.
Carradine was “in good spirits” when he left the U.S. for Thailand May 29 to work on the movie “Stretch,” said Tiffany Smith of Binder & Associates, his managers.
“David was excited to do it and excited to be a part of it,” she said by phone from Beverly Hills, noting that Carradine was the sole featured American in the movie, whose other top cast members were French and Chinese. “When he was on a set he was in heaven.”
Filming of the thriller by French director Charles de Meaux began Tuesday, she said, adding that the crew was devastated by Carradine’s death and did not wish to speak publicly about it for the time being.
“It is shocking to me that he is no longer with us,” said Michael Madsen, who played an assassin in “Kill Bill.”
“I have so many great memories of David that I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” he said. “He has a very special place in my heart.”
The website of the Thai newspaper The Nation said Carradine could not be contacted after he failed to appear for a meal with the rest of the film crew on Wednesday, and that his body was found by a hotel maid Thursday morning. It said a preliminary police investigation found that he had hanged himself with a cord used with the suite’s curtains and that there was no sign that he had been assaulted.
Police said Carradine’s body was taken to a hospital for an autopsy that would be done Friday.
Carradine appeared in more than 100 feature films with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby. One of his early film roles was as folk singer Woody Guthrie in Ashby’s 1976 biopic, “Bound for Glory.”
But he was best known for his role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin priest travelling the 1800s American frontier West in the TV series “Kung Fu,” which aired in 1972-75.
“I wasn’t like a TV star in those days, I was like a rock ’n’ roll star,” Carradine said in an interview with Associated Press Radio in 1996. “It was a phenomenon kind of thing. . . . It was very special.”
He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine’s grandson in the 1993-1997 syndicated series “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.” The series, which can still be seen in reruns, was shot in Toronto where Carradine lived for part of the time while it was in production.
Carradine returned to the top in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part saga “Kill Bill.”
Bill, the worldly father figure of a pack of crack assassins, was a shadowy presence in 2003’s “Kill Bill — Vol. 1.” In that film, one of Bill’s former assassins (Uma Thurman) begins a vengeful rampage against her old associates, including Bill.
In “Kill Bill — Vol. 2,” released in 2004, Thurman’s character catches up to Bill. The role brought Carradine a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.