How Paul Walker’s legacy, both in film and life, is stronger than most people think

As my friend, Chris McHugh, finely put it, Paul Walker’s death was “2 Fast 2 Furious”.   A reference of course to the weakest film in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, but also a blunt description when it comes to losing a young movie star.  Walker died today in Southern California when he was riding in a Porsche with his friend as the car spun out and crashed into a tree and burst into flames.  He was 40 years old and was participating in a charity event for his foundation, Reach Out Organization.

When TMZ first reports a celeb’s death, they are usually dead on.   I found out via their site about the deaths of Tony Scott and James Gandolfini.   When I heard about Walker’s passing in the past hour, it was literally as shocking if not more.  Walker was a young man.  Whether you like his films or not, he was a father of a 15 year girl, had a family, and did a lot of charity work.

You will know him for his high throttle film work in the “Fast and Furious” franchise as well as taut little thrillers like “Running Scared” and this month’s “Hours.” He also acted kids films such as “Eight Below” and the classic high school football film, “Varsity Blues.”   Walker also had a small role in Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers.” But it was the fast-moving, belief-suspending action series that fans will remember Walker the most for.

This news will cause a genuine eruption on the set of the blockbuster car racing series, currently filming its 7th installment.  Walker tweeted a picture of himself, Tyrese Gibson and Vin Diesel last night around 7:45 p.m. from the set.  The cast, especially Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and Gibson, had become a close knit family with Walker.   They had worked together for over 12 years on these movies.  There is no clue how his role will be rewritten or worked into the plot of the 7th film, which brings British action star Jason Statham into the mix for a revenge style adventure.   That’s not important right now.

What is important is the loss of a young ambitious man, a father, and a passionate giver.  Walker was raising money for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines this week and may have crashed in the midst of a test drive he was giving to raise money for the fallen country.   More details will come out soon.  For now, all we can do is remember his film work and the man he was outside the set.  He gave until it was gone.

This month’s film, “Hours,” promised a different kind of Walker.  Playing a father who brings his wife to a New Orleans hospital on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, Walker stretches his acting limits (in a good way) as a dad who must do whatever it takes to save his infant daughter when the power goes out in the hospital.   In addition to the latest “Fast and Furious” entry, Walker had recently wrapped “Brick Mansions” as well.

Walker, who just turned 40 in September, first broke into film with a role in “Monsters in the Closet” in 1986 and went on to slowly become a popular face in cinema.  Sure, his range wasn’t as wide as others, but he was still an enjoyable presence and being a hardcore car lover, he did a fair share of his own driving in the “Fast and Furious” films.

I will remember Walker fondly in taut thrillers like “Joy Ride,” with Steve Zahn and Ted Levine.  His frantic character in “Running Scared,” which was an underrated thriller starring Vera Farmiga and Chazz Palminteri that scored on many gritty levels.  His offbeat role in “Pleasantville” as the hunk, Skip Martin.   Playing a menace in “The Skulls,” Walker was more convincing than expected.  In “Eight Below,” he was a calming presence as a leader of sled dogs.  While he may be remembered for his hell-raising car action flicks with Diesel, Walker did more than people realized in his 27 year long career which included 42 roles.

His beginning was quiet in 1973 in Glendale, California.  His end came in a blaze of flames, on a regular day in December in California.   A bittersweet end for Walker’s life carried more than enough of Hollywood flair.  He had just welcome his daughter in California to live with him.

It’s just a sad deal, but that’s life and death for you.  It’s never fair, either with the rich and famous movie star or the blue collar worker.  I didn’t expect to write this tonight and it truly pains me to finish it here. Walker made a living as a guy who could drive anything, anywhere-but he left the world in a crash that should remind people of the dangers of driving fast and furiously in real life.

His legacy, though, is stronger than most people know or think.

Rest in peace, Paul Walker.  You left us too soon.

*Originally written on Dec. 1, 2013. Updated on Nov. 30, 2020*


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