News Column

EDITORIAL: Fans mourn loss of 'F&F' actor

December 5, 2013


Dec. 05--The sports writer, looking to be in his 20s, said aloud to no one in particular in the press box that the text he had just received surely was a joke. Paul Walker -- "You know, the guy from the 'Fast & Furious' movies," he said -- had died in a car wreck.

When the writer phoned in a game update a few minutes later, he suggested that someone in the newsroom double-check.

The text writer, it turns out, was not joking. Walker, 40, indeed had been killed.

More than the news, it was the irony that struck those familiar with the actor and/or the action movie series about street racing: Walker died because a fast car crashed and burst into flames in the Los Angeles area.

The fast car was a Porsche, driven by a friend, who also died on impact, authorities say.

It was a scene that easily could have been in one of the movies. Except this time, one of the heroes died.

Walker was part of a crew that starred in six films in the series, beginning with "The Fast and the Furious" in 2001. The films have grossed $2.4 billion worldwide for Universal. Video games based on the movie have been equally popular.

Walker's pairing with the appropriately named Vin Diesel in five of the films -- neither Walker nor Diesel were part of the third film, "Tokyo Drift" and Diesel did not take part in the second film, "2 Fast 2 Furious" -- earned loyal fans. Walker played an FBI agent who originally infiltrated a street club, while Diesel played a street racer and ex-con.

In comments about Walker's death, Diesel noted their relationship hinged, not on their similarities, but on their differences. That applied, he said, to real life, too:

"Our chemistry is that we don't have any chemistry ... He's East Coast and I'm West Coast. We respect each other as human beings and that's about all it takes ... We have two totally different approaches to this whole game."

Production of "Fast & Furious 7" started in September, a summer 2014 project that has been halted and could be shelved. We don't expect the latter.

Although the lines of right and wrong in the movies often were as blurred as the scenery passing by the fast cars, fans enjoyed the stunts, cool cars and bravado.

"They're fun," said a local fan, who's older than all of the main stars. Perhaps more of a "guy movie" series, the films have appealed to a wide range of moviegoers, including women. The stars were not unhandsome.

Capable casts that have included Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson and Tyrese Gibson -- all joining Walker and Diesel in No. 6 -- elevated the series above being just a fast car flick.

Walker may not be that entertainer who died too young and will be mourned for years by this generation. Untimely deaths like Walker's bring to mind those who even today are missed -- James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, John Belushi and Kurt Cobain, to name a few. Unlike Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson, whose accomplishments and popularity spanned longer lifetimes, these stars' lives ended suddenly at the edge of greatness. We don't know what more they could have become, but believe faithfully in their potential.

Paul Walker's career did not expand much beyond the "Fast & Furious" movies. His role in the 1999 film "Varsity Blues" about small-town Texas football led to his casting in the first "F&F"; his other films are not especially noteworthy.

But to the many who raced to theaters on opening weekend for the new "Fast & Furious" adventure, bought Blu-ray DVDs, played the video games and eagerly awaited more, his death is a stunning loss.

And it reminds us that real life sometimes can imitate the movies.


(c)2013 the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas)

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