THE death of Hollywood movie legend David Carradine in a Bangkok hotel on June 4, 2009 shocked people in Thailand and around the world. The bizarre circumstances surrounding his death began to emerge around 11.30am that morning when a chambermaid knocked on the door of suite 352 of Swissôtel Nai Lert Park, a luxurious hotel situated in a quiet garden on Wireless Road in central Bangkok.
When no one answered, the maid entered and got the shock of her life: A naked, lifeless man with a gag in his mouth and wearing a black wig and black fishnet stockings was in a sitting position in the closet, hands tied above his head with a cord fastened to the rail of a clothing hanger. Two more cords were tied around his neck and genitals. After the gruesome discovery the deceased was quickly identified as the 72-year-old Hollywood star, but the announcement of his death was delayed for many hours.
Nevertheless, rumours of the incident started to circulate within the day. Some reports said Carradine committed suicide and others said he was murdered. Telephone inquiries to the hotel and Lumpini police were fruitless, so I decided to take a drive to Nai Lert Park.
Quiet before the storm
When I arrived at the hotel lobby around 9pm that Thursday night there was no sign of any media presence and only a few guests were walking around. Some diners were finishing their meal in the ground level ISO Restaurant. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. I went to the reception desk and asked a male employee if Mr Carradine was staying in the hotel. He punched his keyboard as if checking the guest list and then said casually: “Mr Carradine checked out on Wednesday night.”
When I asked if he knew where he had gone, the employee replied: “He moved to another hotel across the river…” I noticed that two of his colleagues standing nearby, a man and a woman, exchanged intense glances during our brief conversation. I had a strong suspicion there was truth to the rumors and that the staff was involved in a cover-up, for which I couldn’t blame them.
Walking around the lobby, I started a conversation with a Thai woman sitting outside the spa. After a while I asked if she’d ever seen the star in the hotel. She replied: “I saw him a few times in the past few days walking around the lobby. He was always cheerful and happy, willing to chat with hotel staff and guests who recognized and approached him.
“I saw him yesterday [June 3] in the lobby. He was in a good mood, and he even played some Western tunes on the piano,” she said, but her voice became subdued and she looked around as if to check if anyone was listening. “He played pretty well, and some people in his group and some guests – foreigners and Thais, including some kids – stood around and listened to him play.
“He left the piano at around 6.30 and took the lift upstairs alone. I guess he went to his room. I heard something bad has happened to him,” said the woman with her head lowered. It was apparent she didn’t want to continue the conversation.
As I was leaving the hotel I struck up a conversation with a doorman I knew from previous visits, and after a few minutes I also asked him about Carradine. A man wearing a suit standing nearby told the doorman to stop talking and followed me to the car park below the hotel. He stayed there until I drove away.
Media reports quoted the general manager of Swissôtel Nai Lert Park as saying that Carradine had arrived in Thailand on May 29 and checked into the hotel on May 31. The GM said the actor was in town for the shooting of a French film production titled Stretch and was the only American in the cast. He confirmed that Carradine had played the piano in the lobby on several occasions.
ACCORDING to media reports, two of Carradine's former wives went public after his death about his unusual sexual interests including self-bondage. His third wife, Gail Jensen, told RadarOnline that he liked to tie himself up, had a fetish for Speedos, and often experimented with nearly drowning himself in the pool.
His fourth wife, Marina Anderson, alleged in 2003 divorce documents obtained by the SmokingGun.com that Carradine practiced “deviant sexual behaviour which was potentially deadly.” She thinks that the Thai police are most probably right in their conclusion that his death was the result of dangerous sexual practices.
Carradine’s fifth wife and widow, Annie Bierman, filed a wrongful death suit against the French film company. She was reported to have received a settlement in 2011 of 400,000 US dollars.
David Carradine with his fourth wife, Marina Anderson
When I returned to the hotel lobby on the morning of June 5 it was a far different scene. Numerous serious-looking security personnel and other staff, most of them wearing dark suits and holding transceivers, patrolled inside and outside the hotel. They closely watched the throng of foreign and Thai TV crews and other journalists who had invaded the hotel grounds. Only a few journalists were allowed to enter the lobby and none managed to sneak up to the floor where Carradine’s suite was located.
The lifts were off limits to everyone but hotel guests. A French television crew tried desperately to interview hotel staff in the lobby, with no success. The hotel public relations officer was swamped with calls, but she wasn’t giving out information to anyone.
Some acquaintances on the police force were much more accommodating when I talked to them the next day, but they warned me that our conversation was strictly private and off the record. One investigator who was one of the first to arrive on the scene said police had found many pairs of ladies underwear of different colours in Carradine’s room, each with a hole cut in the back. “He must have cut the holes himself,” the investigator speculated, and then declared that Carradine had hanged himself. Another investigator agreed with his colleague’s assumptions.
A senior policeman attached to the MPB said: “His penis was tied with a cord and connected to his neck. I suspect that Mr Carradine committed suicide and ‘died with happiness.’” He added that officials at the American embassy were “surprisingly and unusually active in the matter,” and had requested that MPB officers maintain secrecy concerning the case.
The first investigator said that that a yellow nylon rope was tied around Carradine’s neck and a black rope was around his genitals. At least one rope was believed to have been taken from the hotel room curtains. There was no suicide note in the room and it didn’t look like he had been assaulted, the investigator said.
Police determined that apparently nothing was missing from the room. Some valuable items and other property were untouched, leading them to rule out robbery. Although Carradine’s hands were tied, investigators concluded that he could have done it by himself. What’s more, CCTV tapes from the hotel confirmed that no one else had entered Carradine’s room after he let himself in. There was no sign of forced entry and nothing suspicious was found outside the room.
Carradine had no marks on his body to indicate there was a struggle. “He is a big man and it would be difficult for anyone to move his body to the closet or try to fight with him. He knew how to defend himself. He was inside the room by himself,” said the investigator, adding that he had heard of a similar incident that happened abroad which was determined to be a suicide. However, after an autopsy was performed the Thai police concluded that his death was not a suicide but likely an accident resulting from dangerous sex practices.
Prolific all-round performer
DAVID Carradine was born John Arthur Carradine in Hollywood, California, in December 1936. He came from a showbiz family. His father was John Carradine, one of the most respected character actors in Hollywood history. Three of his four brothers, Bruce, Robert and Keith, also took up acting. Christopher Carradine is an architect who became vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering.
David was married five times and divorced four times. He had two daughters, Calista and Kansas, and one son, Tom.
Carradine had a remarkably successful professional career spanning 45 years as an actor, director, producer, songwriter, singer and musician. Carradine played piano, flute and guitar among other instruments. According to his official website (david-carradine.com), he appeared in 118 films, 32 plays, 27 television movies of the week, miniseries and dramatic specials. He made 35+ guest appearances on various series and was the star of three series.
He is best known for playing Caine in Kung Fu, one of the most iconic roles in the history of television. The smash hit series that garnered Carradine Emmy and Golden Globe nominations also introduced many viewers to Asian martial arts and Chinese philosophy.
At the time of his death Carradine was wrapping up work on his final film, Stretch. Monica Donati, a spokesman for the French film company MK2, said in a statement from Paris that the film crew in Bangkok was “shocked” by Carradine’s death but would finish shooting. The film was released in January 2011.
The first autopsy on Carradine’s body was completed by Friday, June 5 at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok. Celebrated pathologist Pornthip Rojanasunan, then Director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, was involved in the case. She told the Bangkok Post newspaper that the actor may have died as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation, a practice in which a person’s air supply is cut off to heighten sexual pleasure.
A second autopsy was performed by Dr Michael Baden after the body was flown back to the United States. In his post mortem report Dr Baden, who was hired by the Carradine family, listed the cause of death as “accidental asphyxiation.” The report did not rule out the possibility that the former Kung Fu star died as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation.
A police officer attached to the Royal Thai Police Forensic Department said police had been approached to sell photos taken by the police photographers at the scene and also at the morgue. He said such photos could not be sold for any amount, adding that they are “too graphic” and releasing them would upset Carradine’s fans and bring shame to his family. He said that if police photos were to surface it would also bring big trouble to his department because the “big boss” had given specific orders not to give the photos or any information to anyone.
But one widely circulated Thai language daily newspaper somehow managed to obtain a photo of the body hanging in the closet and put it on the front page of its Saturday, June 7 edition. The heavily censored photo also shows Carradine facing what looks to be red women’s lingerie lying on top of a nearby bed. The source of the photo remains a mystery. It is all but certain that it wasn’t a journalist or hotel employee, but aside from the police, workers for a charity foundation that collects dead bodies were also allowed at the scene of death.
Furious family members condemned publication of the photos and reportedly asked the FBI to investigate the death. Celebrated American defense attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Carradine’s half-brother Keith, said the family plans on suing for emotional distress if the images are shown in the United States.
In any case the photo was reprinted in publications around the world and on the internet, stoking the media spotlight and bringing a crush of unwanted attention to the world renowned Swissôtel Nai Lert Park. Other photos taken in Bangkok appeared later on various websites, allegedly showing Carradine’s naked and heavily tattooed body on an autopsy table.
More than seven years after his death, some hotel employees still have a vivid recollection of the man they knew simply as “David.” A long-time employee described him as a very friendly man and not at all pretentious in spite of his fame. She fondly remembered him entertaining guests on the lobby piano. “His death was shock for everyone at the hotel,” said the woman.
Said one security guard posted outside the hotel: “I remember him very well. He was a nice man and a good kung fu fighter.” He pointed to the window of the room where the actor stayed. “I heard that he was alone when he died. But after word got out, this hotel was swarming with police and media,” the man recalled.