By now, it’s no longer news that the actor Paul Walker passed away this Saturday in California. Sat in the passenger side of a high performance Porsche, he was killed in a collision that triggered a horrific explosion.
From a young age, it always seemed that Walker was destined for a career in front of the camera. While he was still a baby, he appeared in a television ad for Pampers diapers. In in his teenage years, he had started appearing in films like Monster in the Closet, a budget horror that also starred a young Fergie.
As he matured into his matinee idol looks, he began appear in things like Meet the Deedles and Pleasantville, which would then lead to his breakout role opposite James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues. In that movie, he played the injury-riddle quarterback in the high-pressure setting of High School American Football in Texas. The same subject was popularised years later with Friday Night Lights but to this day Varsity Blues still remains a cult favourite.
The modest success of this film eventually led to a role that has defined the remainder of career: that of Brian O’Conner in the Fast and Furious series
Appearing in all but one of the films, Walker was an essential part of this unlikely blockbuster franchise. What started as a Point Break-style story of about a police detective (Walker) going undercover to infiltrate an underground street racing syndicate really found its identity around the fourth and fifth entries. Under the direction of Justin Lin, the movies embraced their ridiculousness and morphed into 007-type blockbusters that spanned the globe
In Fast 5 and 6, the action scenes would ignore all semblance of believability; its crazy plotlines and knowingly macho dialogue delighted audiences around the world. As of this year, Fast and Furious became Universal studio’s most successful franchise.
Hollywood is a place where actors get typecast pretty easily and Walker was no exception. In between the Fast movies, he would star in a number of vehicle-led action films like the JJ Abrams-penned Joy Ride, a modern take on road horrors like The Hitcher and Duel. Just this year he played the lead role in the South African thriller Vehicle 19, in which he played a tourist who picks up a rental that gets him into trouble with corrupt cops.
His career as an actor was inextricably linked to fast cars, but from by all accounts it was a connection he embraced. Like Steve McQueen before him, there was something just right about the way he looked behind the wheel. He seemed to really belong there and from the many reports and obituaries released over the weekend, he was a genuine petrol-head. He had driven in a number of competitive racing series and had even owned a customs garage run by his close friend, business partner, and fellow victim Roger Rodas. Moments before his death, he had been attending a car-themed charity event in aid of Typhoon Haiyan.
Much has also been said of his other interests. As a philanthropist he set up Reach Out Worldwide, an organisation that helped with relief efforts in disaster stricken areas like Haiti and Chile in 2010. He also had a passion for marine biology, having studied the subject at college. In 2010, he starred in a National Geographic series in which he spent over week catching and tagging great white sharks with a group of scientists.
Since news broke on Saturday night of his untimely death, his fans have expressed their shock on social media while co-stars posted touching pictures of Walker from their time on set with him. Even though he was the face of a billion dollar franchise, the public at large didn’t seem to know that much about Walker’s personal life: he was never a fixture of Hollywood’s ravenous tabloid culture.
Of all the stars to comment of his death on Twitter, few claim to have known him well; those who did seemed to love him deeply. Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel posted heartfelt tributes online, while Tyrese Gibson was photographed visiting crash site in tears.
The irony of his death has escaped no-one’s attention: his manner of passing might have taken on a poetic quality if only we weren’t aware of the tragic, violent and inexplicable way his life ended.
Paul Walker leaves behind a 15 year old daughter. He was just 40 years old.