The king of kung fu, actor David Carradine, popularized zen and the martial arts with his 1970s television series "Kung Fu," which he now parodies in Yellowbook television ads. Among his other credits are "Gray Lady Down," "Mean Streets," "The Long Goodbye" and "Kill Bill." His father, John Carradine, was an actor as is his brother Bruce and his half-brothers Robert and Keith. He talks about his five marriages, karma and growing up with the Carradine legacy. He stars in a Hallmark Movie Channel HD original "Son of the Dragon" 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Q: Do you believe in reincarnation? Karma?
A: Well, Karma is kind of a given and reincarnation, yeah. I believe in something like that. I think the way we talk about it, I don't think that's how it works. I don't think it's that simple, but yeah, I believe in past lives and future lives.
Q: When you first started acting did you feel the need to prove yourself to your father?
A: No, I don't think so. When I started acting, the truth is what I was trying to do was prove my father to the industry. I thought they'd given him a raw deal, and I really started acting to get even for him.
Q: I read that you basically grew up a loner, which made you a tough guy.
A: I never thought I was very tough. I mean I was definitely in a lot of fights when I was a kid. I lost a lot of them (laughing). But no, I don't think I'm a tough guy, but I was a loner. I was a difficult child. You could call me a problem child. I spent a little time in reform school and I was farmed out, literally. I spent some time as a hired hand on a dairy farm in Vermont and a hay farm in Massachusetts. I was actually in a foster home for a while. And a lot of boarding schools.
Q: So what accounts for all this?
A: A broken marriage more than anything, I guess.
Q: You've said you learned how to "handle" women from your dad.
A: Well, he was pretty good at this up to a point. I don't know if I really said that. I can't imagine me saying that, but I guess I must have. You know my dad had a lot of wives and there were ladies in between. The thing that most impressed me about my father with ladies is that he was such a gentleman. He really knew how to do that. I took a page from that, you know? I treat my women that way, but I have had the same problem he had, which is I don't seem to be able to stay married permanently.
Q: You've been married many times. Was it your expectations or theirs that weren't being met?
A: I think it takes two to tangle. There were some disappointments on both sides.
Q: Do you think your being an actor played into the initial interest woman had in you? Is it hard to figure out who likes you for who you really are?
A: Interesting question. Sometimes I wondered about that myself. You know my present wife Annie really had no idea who I was. I mean she heard of me, I think, but she'd never seen any of my work, and I don't think she was impressed by it. I was dead broke when she met me, so I wouldn't say it worked there. My first wife I met in French class in the 11th grade. I wasn't a famous actor when I met Barbara Hershey [they never married but have a son together]. I was just barely getting started. Linda [Gilbert], that was just love at first sight. Lets see, Gail [Jensen] came after that. I don't know, it just happened. Then Marina [Anderson-Carradine], I just kind of befriended her. She seemed really lonely. Of course, when you look back on it you wonder, you know, why these women really hired on.
Q: Any regrets along the way?
A: Oh sure, you know, millions of them. Thousands at least. Professionally, who really cares? There were a couple of things that I turned down that I shouldn't have turned down. There were a couple of things that I did that I really shouldn't have done. I regret every single one of the divorces. I'd say I have some personal regrets. Some wasted years. Some blown opportunities and some flagrant stupidity on my part. Something happened with my dad when I was about 14, which never became clear between us. I kind of wished I had the chance to clear it up. But I don't want to talk about it.
Patricia Sheridan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613.