David Carradine, who achieved cult hero status for his roles in "Kung Fu" and "Kill Bill," died very much how he lived: cloaked in mystery and with a penchant for the dark side.
The legendary actor, who died in 2009 at age 72, left behind a lofty body of work and a complicated, conflicted legacy. In "David Carradine: The Eye Of My Tornado," his former wife and manager Marina Anderson paints a nuanced picture of her tumultuous time with a man at turns loving and generous, at turns cruel and abusive. In the book, first published in 2010 and recently updated with additional content and photos, Anderson, a long-time actress, publicist, manager and writer, details the alcoholic depths to which Carradine sunk and her efforts to help rebuild his life and career, which came to fruition when Quentin Tarantino casted him in the title role in 2003's "Kill Bill." As Anderson writes in the book, "I was addicted to saving him."
"Had I been healthier within myself, I pretty much would have run," she says with a wistful laugh during an interview with HNGN. "However, that part of me was part helping and fixing me. I thought if I could help him and fix him, that in a way is helping fix the part of me that is missing and broken. I could see that in him. So it was kind of a mirror effect for me. But it was also a kind of a thing within me like 'I can do this. I can prove it to myself that I'm strong enough to endure this and go through that fire, and I can help this guy, I can fix his problems.' And in hindsight and in counseling, [I learned] they gotta do it themselves, you can't do it for them."
Carradine's body was found on June 3, 2009, hanging naked from a rope in his Bangkok hotel room. Autopsies concluded that the actor's death was not a suicide, and news reports spread assuming that he had died in an autoerotic asphyxiation accident, while that was not confirmed.
Anderson, who has appeared in high-profile shows like "The Mentalist" and "Dexter" and will play Claudine in this Thursday's episode of "Bones" on Fox, was married to Carradine from 1998 until she divorced him in 2001. She opened up to HNGN about her decision to include in the book intimate details such as the bondage which was part of the couple's sex life, the disappointment that came with Carradine's late-career resurgence, her initial reaction to the news of his passing and how she hopes her story - including the sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle - will help others heal.
Why did you decide to write the book?
I didn't start out writing a book. A couple years before David and I separated, I'd vent on paper, and usually it was like a letter to him I decided not to give him or something, and I would save it. I'd go back to it once in and a while and go, "wow, that's a trip." I had a file and then there was another file. And you talk to people and console each other and whatnot, and I would often get, "God, what you've been through, this is like a book, you should write a book." So I just kept compiling these stories and things I went through, just to help myself; it was more of a self-help thing at that point. After we separated I just kind of ramped up my self-help thing and kept more notes, as it were, and it just kept going. Finally, I thought I have enough here to write something that might help other people, because it's helping me.
Why did you choose the title "David Carradine: The Eye Of My Tornado"?
It was kind of a joke between my close friends. David was the kind of guy who liked a little drama. Not that he would do things on purpose, but he seemed to get a little bit of a kick out of seeing people react to what he was doing. In other areas in our life, he was the center of the tornado and everything is spinning around him and trying to deal with what he was creating.
Did you have any trepidation about including certain details in the book, like some of the sexual things and David's proclivities (although much of that came out anyway in court documents)?
The court documents were never ever intended to go out public. That was a situation where they were supposed to be sealed and somehow something got messed up somewhere along the line and they ended up in the public record, and The Smoking Gun got them, and out they went.
Regarding the other things in the book, oh, I had nightmares over "do I include this, do I not, what are people going to think?" But bottom line is, my ass is out there too, I'm buck naked out there too myself, because, as I said, it started out as a self-help thing, and I thought maybe this would help other people, and I wanted to come out with the fact that my uncle molested me. People stay in the closet about real important things like that, and they fester with these secrets that should be brought out so they can heal from it. It's a lot better now because a lot of celebrities have come out with their incest and their abuse and it's helped so many help people. ... That's the key bottom line, to help other people.
It wasn't an exploitation. How it was presented was key. That's why I never outed any specific person or people and that's why I turned to Dr. Drew Pinsky. I still have these lingering questions and the finally pieces to the puzzle are needed to get closure and I thought he's the guy I want to get advice from. So I contacted his publicist and I explained my situation and I said this is not exploitation, this is to help people. Within three days I was on the phone with him. It was three days before he was taking his vacation and he really went out of his way to give me that interview, and it was key in my getting closure. It was an epiphany for me with what he had to say to me.
In the book you write about helping David with his alcoholism and other issues, cleaning up his reputation and rebuilding his career, most notably helping him get the role in "Kill Bill." But he never gave you any credit for that. How did that make you feel to see him act that those things kind of happened magically without your help?
Well, nothing magically happened. Just to fast-forward a little bit, to see his success with "Kill Bill," which was the culminating factor of my efforts, and my combined efforts with what David's efforts were, it was kind of like seeing a baby being born but you have to give it up for adoption and see it raised by someone else. It was - I'm going to tears now - it was a tremendously heartbreaking experience for me. We had that goal to get him back on top, get that success for him, but to share it with him and bask in the glory with my husband on something we worked so hard together for, and I was left in the dust. That was horrendous. However, at the same time, I was happy that those efforts succeeded. I accomplished what I set out to do for him, and for us, but I wasn't part of the us anymore (laughs). So I was happy in a sense, but unfortunately it was more at that time awful heartache and hurt and feeling like crap for not being acknowledged and being left out of it entirely. That was hard.
You write that seeing John Travolta's comeback in "Pulp Fiction" gave you the idea that David should work with Tarantino as well.
We had talked about it extensively, what to do and how to get on that A-list, and it often circled back to Tarantino, he resurrects these careers. And so fast-forward, in '95, when we first moved in together, it was the first Toronto Film Festival we experienced together. And Drew Barrymore was there and we hung out with Drew because [David] has a family connection with Drew, and in walks Tarantino. And I'm going, "Oh my God, there's Quentin Tarantino," and David is going, "Oh my God, there's Quentin." And we knew that was the key moment, but he couldn't do it. He said, "I can't go up to him." I said, "Are you crazy? This is the opportunity." So I was the one that went up to Quentin, who was deep in a conversation, and I tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked me up and down, and he said, "Yeah?" I said, "My boyfriend is a major fan of yours, would you at some point come over so I can introduce you?" and he goes, "Who's your boyfriend?" "David Carradine." And he said, "Oh my God," and he was too intimidated to go up to David.
He cut his conversation short and I literally took him by the hand over to David and introduced them, and it was like a 20-minute love-fest between the two of them. He actually had a copy of David's movie "Americana," and he knew the dialog by heart. By the end he was winding down and he had to go deal with other people, and I'm thinking, you can't let this opportunity go, this can't be it. So I said, "Quentin, what are you doing for lunch tomorrow?" And David looked at me with a smile, like "Good move, babe." I said, "We'd like to take you out to lunch, maybe Alexander's Bar," because David was drinking at that point. He said, "I'd love to." And that's when it came out, bless his heart, he was bluntly honest with me, he said, "I would love to work with you, I would love to find something for you, but David, you've got this bad rap, your drinking, man." And we tried to convince him that he could function, he could do his lines, he could do his stunts, and he could - on a quart and a half of vodka a day. But obviously it wasn't enough to convince Quentin. We did exchange information and I knew we were connected, now I needed to prove to Quentin that David could do it.
And it was six years of emailing, calling, inviting, and it was that constant schmooze with Quentin, and it was at the "Jackie Brown" cast party, because David's step-brother Michael Bowen had a really nice juicy role in that. ... At that point David was actually pissed at Quentin because he cast Robert Forster instead of him. So David was giving Quentin kind of the cold shoulder. So David went off to grab a Coke, sans alcohol, and Quentin looks to me and says, "What's the matter, is David angry at me? I don't want him angry at me." And I said, "Well, Quentin, he's a little ticked off that he didn't make it in this movie," and he goes, "No, no, it wasn't the right role for him, I'm going to find the project for him." When David came back, he said, "David, I'm not just going to find you a role. I'm going to find the role for you." And I think he cemented in his brain that he would do it, which he did with "Kill Bill."
What was your reaction to the news of David's death, and were you surprised of the details?
When I first got the news, it was that disbelief sort of thing, the press got it wrong, it's just an awful rumor. When I turned on the television I just felt myself totally go into overload and the tears just weren't stopping. All the old feelings and the hopes and the "maybe one day we'll still meet and have smiles on our faces" or maybe someday we will get back together, it was too much to process. I kind of had a mini breakdown. When I called Bobby [actor Robert Carradine, David's brother], his wife Edie answered the phone, I held it together but I didn't want to alarm them in case it was a rumor. After it was all confirmed that it was true, I started having a nervous breakdown, and then it turned to a little bit of anger.
Yeah, I believe the basic scenario, because he was into what they presented - he wasn't into the autoerotic asphyxiation, which is by one's self, but he was into the tying up...we lived the real "50 Shades Of Grey," man - but it did not include him by himself. So looking at all these news reports, they kept holding that. That's when I started to get angry, this isn't right. I just kind of felt it was leaving him with a stigma - mind you, I was not happy with him at the end - but when all this happened, all that went by the wayside, no this isn't right, I want to find out what really happened. And that's when I started to make calls and investigate it myself.
You write about your collie Lulu being there for you at the time. How did she support you?
Oh my God. My beloved collie Lulu, she was daughter to Lassie VIII and her brother from the same litter was Lassie IX. She was my rock. Some people will say "she's a wacko to put it in these terms," but she was my kid, she was my child, she was the light of my life, and my soul was connected to this dog. I think animals do have a sixth sense. I could be in the other room and she'd bolt into the room and put her paw on my lap and look at me like, "Are you OK? I know something's wrong." She was also a certified therapy dog and she became my service dog because of my severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So she was definitely my rock. When I was upset, I had her. Just one look at her and things would wash away, and I could take a deep breath and recharge the battery. When she passed away, the rug was just pulled out from under me, and even to this day, nothing seems the same. The light dimmed, and it has yet to go back on as bright.
What are you working on currently?
I'm working on getting my book...my story, produced as a film. Wish list is Gary Oldman to play David. Also, my first children's book, appropriately titled "Adventures of Lulu The Collie." I'm still acting. I did a role on "The Mentalist" that aired recently and now "Bones." I like doing the indie projects. I did this one project called "In Honor Of," and it's about the honor systems that many cultures have. If you dishonor the family, they kill the family member. It's really well-done, I just saw the final edit of it. I'm just proud to be a part of projects like that. And another one called "Legacy" I did a couple years ago, and oddly enough I play a mother who comes onto her son. I love playing freaky characters like murderers, and I get a lot of roles like that. The writing seems to becoming more and more of what I'm doing.
Disclosure: Marina Anderson is a freelance contributor to HNGN.