Paul Walker wasn’t James Dean. He wasn’t even Heath Ledger. But a moviegoing generation grew up with him and “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, and his death in a one-car accident a year and a half ago set off the kind of public outpouring of grief usually reserved for figures of much longer standing and stature in the pop culture world.
This may be because the “Furious” team had come to regard itself as a family over six-plus films and more than a dozen years.
At last year’s MTV Movie Awards, Walker and Vin Diesel were honored as best onscreen duo – it was an award they had first won 12 years earlier. In an unaired video message posted to Facebook, Diesel choked up as he said, “Thank you for honoring me, and, more importantly, thank you for honoring that angel, my brother, Paul Walker.”
The 40-year-old Walker was riding in a red Porsche GT driven by his friend, pro racer Roger Rodas. The sports car hit 90 mph, according to CHP investigators, and smashed into a light pole and several trees, bursting into flames and killing both men.
Co-star Tyrese Gibson, who in a home movie on a “Furious” set with Walker affectionately called him “my favorite white man … P-Dubber,” tearfully visited the crash site after the news broke.
Gibson later said, “It wasn’t just losing a co-star; he was family for real. That’s why it took so long to recover.”
Speed was in the genes of the star of the movie franchise that elevated street racing to a superpower; he spoke reverently of how his grandfather was the first to break 160 mph in a Ford Falcon. In interviews, he would often expound on his love of cars, skateboarding and surfing, and getting into “a sport a day.”
Walker made a splash in 1999’s “Varsity Blues” but became a star after 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” as an undercover cop who eventually becomes a goodhearted, hard-driving outlaw. He finished with more than 40 credits, but was by far best known for his six “Furious” movies.
Walker hadn’t completed his scenes in the latest entry in the nearly $2.4 billion-grossing series when he was killed. The “Furious” show must go on, of course, as the last two films have been by far the highest-grossing of the physics-ignoring franchise.
Co-star Chris “Ludacris” Bridges told Haute Living, “It was very hard doing things without him. … Of all the cast members, we just really got along. … I’ll miss the deep conversations about life, about the world, why things happen. … That’s what I’ll remember him by the most.”
Walker’s younger brothers, Cody and Caleb, not only endorsed the continued production of “Furious 7” but signed on as his stand-ins with the help of CGI.
Diesel called the experience “surreal,” telling “Extra” hours after wrapping, “On some levels, it was very cool to know that his brothers were supporting this and wanting to help.”
The burly Diesel, known for his tough-guy persona, described shooting a scene in a car that made him think of being with his departed friend and going through “three boxes of tissues – and I’m supposed to be in killer mode. … It was so hard to get through.“
In an Instagram post with Walker’s arm around him, Gibson wrote, “To this day his arm is still around my neck with love and protection … Rest in heaven …”