PAUL WALKER // Today we said goodbye to another great young actor; Paul Walker. We’ll never know what he would go on to do, but what we have are the films, impressions, and charitable acts he left behind. Even though the headlines read like a bad joke, Walker lost his life in a single-car collision following a charity event in Valencia, California, according to several press releases including this article from Variety (Variety article). Born in Glendale, California, Walker had been acting since the age of 12 and had taken on quite the level of success, especially with Universal’s ongoing franchise, The Fast and the Furious. He was 40 years old when he died.
Walker had first become apparent to me in his role as football prodigy Lance Harbor in one of my favorite films to date, Varsity Blues (1999), focusing on the pressures of football in a small town. In similar roles, he took on playing the high school jerk in the classic teen drama She’s All That (1999) opposite Freddie Prinze Jr. and played Skip Martin in period piece dramedy Pleasantville (1998) with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon. Continuing in yet another misunderstood-villain role, he played Caleb Mandrake in The Skulls (2000) opposite Joshua Jackson, to which I also thoroughly enjoyed. I also remember loving his horror film turn in Joy Ride (2001), to which my girlfriend at the time bought me the DVD. Already in his first few theatrical pushes, he was making a living in the film industry.
Walker’s first major success would come in the form of high paced action flick, The Fast and the Furious (2001) as street smart undercover cop Brian O’Conner, to which he would become most popularly known. With the style and flair to captivate an era of street racing, Walker found his home in this franchise which would eventually spawn six consecutive sequels, only one of which he did not star in. He also found himself in Michael Crichton adaptation Timeline (2003) as leading man Chris Johnston, Into The Blue (2005) as the main character and Jessica Alba’s love interest, and even Disney’s live action dog sledding adventure Eight Below (2006). It was his next film that would become my favorite, Running Scared (2006). Playing a father of a young boy and gofer for the mob, the entire film centers around a gun that is used by the mob in a high profile murder, but instead of dumping like he’s supposed to, Walker’s character hides it in his basement. When the gun is taken by his son’s friend, the rest of the film is a race to find the kid and the gun, before anyone else does.
Running Scared marked the moment where Paul Walker became one of my favorite actors. He had an ease in being the protagonist and an every man’s man persona, where he could be weak and completely in control within the same film. He was a pretty boy but also rough around the edges and no one could match the presence he had while on the screen. As the resurrection of the Fast and the Furious franchise came to a head, the chemistry between Walker and Vin Diesel proved to be the glue that held the entire series of films together. With Fast and Furious 7 currently in production, one can only imagine what this will do to the film and the franchise as a whole, being one of the biggest moneymaking endeavors under the Universal umbrella, without its lead. Yes, it has become an ensemble piece, but Walker and Diesel were that foundation. And with this amping up to be the best installment yet, a huge emptiness has been created with his loss.
Much like the loss of Heath Ledger at such a young age, you can’t help but wonder what Walker’s future would have held. Remaining a charitable man up until the very end, it’s heartbreaking to have lost such a positive addition to this earth, and we can only hope he’s gone to a better place. What we have to hold onto is the legacy he left behind in his filmography. I wish his family all the condolences I can offer and wish his friends and colleagues the very best at working through this tough time, as we look to the future and remember the man that was. I will remember him fondly.