As of this writing, more than a million people have clicked “Like”—meaning in this instance, of course, anything but “Like”—and nearly half a million have “shared” the Facebook announcement from a representative of Paul Walker confirming that the 40-year-old actor died in a tragic car accident yesterday. According to most reports, Walker had been attending a benefit event for Reach Out Worldwide, a public charity he founded to organize and deliver aid to parts of the world struck by natural disasters. Walker was in the passenger seat when a red Porsche GT slammed into a lamp post in Valencia, north of Los Angeles, and burst into flames.
“Walker, a working actor since childhood, first made a name for himself in the late 1990s playing supporting roles in teen-friendly films like Varsity Blues and She’s All That,” writes Noel Murray at the Dissolve, “but he’s best-known for playing Brian O’Conner in the blockbuster action-movie series spawned by 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. In five of the six Fast & Furious films—he sat out the third—Walker played a soulful hero who began as the antagonist to a band of car thieves and later became the group’s ally and conscience. His rugged good looks and intense conviction were as responsible for the success of those movies as the eye-popping stunts.”
“If one day the speed kills me, do not cry because I was smiling.” – Paul Walker
— oceloteWorld (@oceloteWorld) December 1, 2013
According to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Kimberly Nordyke, Fast & Furious 7 “had recently begun filming in Atlanta and was set to move to Abu Dhabi in January, but was on a break from shooting for the Thanksgiving holiday…. The blue-eyed Walker, who described himself on his Twitter page as an ‘adrenaline junkie,’ did many stunts in the Fast and the Furious movies himself. He starred in a 2010 National Geographic Channel series Expedition Great White, on which he spent 11 days as part of the crew, catching and tagging great white sharks off the coast of Mexico.” He’s “survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow.” At RogerEbert.com, Peter Sobczynski writes that “if I were to pick one film of his to seek out right away, it would have to be the jaw-dropping 2006 thriller Running Scared, a film so determinedly demented from start to finish that even the most jaded of moviegoers—at least the ones who caught it during its sadly brief theatrical run—were agog at its excesses. Walker stars as a low-ranking mob thug charged with disposing of a gun that was used to shoot a corrupt cop during a drug deal gone bad. Before he can do so, a neighbor kid steals it to shoot his abusive father, and Walker has to track down both the kid and the gun, a search that leads to some of most lurid developments imaginable. As he did in the Fast & the Furious films, Walker provided a clear and relatable anchor amid the madness.”
When somebody known for doing a particular thing dies while doing that thing, it’s not “ironic.”
— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) December 1, 2013
Anne Helen Petersen considers Walker as a genre actor and the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw notes that he’ll likely be forever associated with the Fast & Furious franchise, “not much liked critically, but the most lucrative in the history of Universal Studios.” The New York Daily News is collecting reactions from many who knew and worked with Walker, while Stuart Heritage has notes on several clips at the Guardian.
Updates: “Let’s face it,” writes Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “Walker wasn’t exactly regarded as one of the finer actors of his generation. But I always had a soft spot for the guy. He was immediately relatable, which is rare for an actor so good looking…. He actually was quite good at portraying desperation, as evidenced by the number of films he took on (like Vehicle 19) that involved him racing against the clock under extreme, frightening circumstances. (There’s another one, called Hours, slated for release in a couple of weeks.) Even when the films aren’t particularly great, Walker’s anxiety is palpable. You feel for the guy.”
“Walker was less than two weeks away from seeing how movie audiences and VOD viewers would respond to what arguably was the finest performance of his career up to that point, as a desperate father who triumphs over death,” writes Joe Leydon at Thompson on Hollywood. “In Hours, writer-director Eric Heisserer’s suspenseful indie drama, Walker plays Nolan Hayes, a loving husband who rushes his pregnant wife to a New Orleans hospital just before sunrise on Aug. 29, 2005—just as Hurricane Katrina begins its brutal assault on the Crescent City. Unfortunately, Nolan’s wife dies during childbirth. Even more unfortunately, his prematurely born daughter must remain inside a ventilator for at least 48 hours…. As I wrote in Variety after the drama’s SXSW Film Festival premiere last March: ‘Hours is practically a one-man show, with Walker alone on camera for lengthy stretches as Nolan passes time talking to his baby, or himself, and dashing hither and yon between battery-cranks while on beat-the-clock explorations and supply runs.’ The film ‘capably and compellingly rises to the demands of the role,’ and ‘gracefully balances the drama on his shoulders.'”