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Part of an American acting dynasty that included father John, brothers David and Keith, as well as daughter Ever, Robert Carradine established himself in a number of memorable projects. After making a promising feature film debut opposite John Wayne in "The Cowboys" (1972), Carradine delivered a well-received supporting turn in the Vietnam War drama "Coming Home" (1978). In a momentous year that saw him co-starring with his brothers in the hard-driving Western "The Long Riders" (1980), he also starred opposite Lee Marvin as a young soldier in "The Big Red One" (1980). It was, however, his leading role as the bespectacled hero Lewis in the hit comedy "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984) that forever cemented Carradine's place in screen history. An actor of diverse tastes and talents, he impressed as an AIDS patient in the drama "As Is" (Showtime, 1986) and gamely played the straight man to Cheech Marin's aging hippy in the comedy "Rude Awakening" (1989). Throughout the 1990s, Carradine produced and starred in a pair of made-for-TV "Revenge of the Nerds" sequels, made several television series guest spots, and starred in a plethora of direct-to-DVD thrillers. Carradine was discovered by a new generation of...
Part of an American acting dynasty that included father John, brothers David and Keith, as well as daughter Ever, Robert Carradine established himself in a number of memorable projects. After making a promising feature film debut opposite John Wayne in "The Cowboys" (1972), Carradine delivered a well-received supporting turn in the Vietnam War drama "Coming Home" (1978). In a momentous year that saw him co-starring with his brothers in the hard-driving Western "The Long Riders" (1980), he also starred opposite Lee Marvin as a young soldier in "The Big Red One" (1980). It was, however, his leading role as the bespectacled hero Lewis in the hit comedy "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984) that forever cemented Carradine's place in screen history. An actor of diverse tastes and talents, he impressed as an AIDS patient in the drama "As Is" (Showtime, 1986) and gamely played the straight man to Cheech Marin's aging hippy in the comedy "Rude Awakening" (1989). Throughout the 1990s, Carradine produced and starred in a pair of made-for-TV "Revenge of the Nerds" sequels, made several television series guest spots, and starred in a plethora of direct-to-DVD thrillers. Carradine was discovered by a new generation of young fans as Hilary Duff's father on the tween comedy "Lizzie McGuire" (Disney Channel, 2001-04) and later returned to nerds territory as the co-host of the reality competition series "King of the Nerds" (TBS, 2013-15). Whether as a grizzled G.I. or a hapless bookworm, Carradine remained one of the more versatile performers in Hollywood.
Born Robert Reed Carradine on March 24, 1954 in Hollywood, he was the youngest of three sons - including Keith and Christopher - born to actress Sonia Sorel and veteran character actor John Carradine. Among his siblings, the young Robert also counted half-brothers Bruce and David from his father's previous marriage. Of the five children, only his oldest full brother, Christopher, would ultimately choose not to become an actor, going on to a career as an architect instead. At the age of two, Carradine's parents separated and a notoriously bitter divorce and lengthy custody battle ensued. During this tumultuous period of the boy's life, he and his two older brothers were temporarily placed in the care of protective services, where they were only allowed to visit with their parents in rooms separated by glass partitions. Years later, his brother Keith described the traumatic experience as something akin to "being in jail." Eventually, John won custody of his boys and, as they were no longer permitted to have contact with Sorel, they were raised primarily by John Carradine's third wife, Doris Grimshaw. For the majority of his childhood, Carradine believed the woman to be his birth mother until his brother Keith revealed the truth to him after he met Sorel at a Christmas party at the age of 14.
By this stage of his life, Carradine had begun dabbling in acting while attending Hollywood High and living with his brother David and his girlfriend, actress Barbara Hershey, at the older Carradine's Laurel Canyon home. In addition to acting, David also helped to fuel what would become two of his younger sibling's greatest passions - music and race car driving. In the years that followed, the two brothers formed a quartet that played several clubs along the West Coast and Robert would eventually earn a reputation as talented driver on various formula circuits. Despite these other alluring diversions, however, it was acting that ultimately became Carradine's primary vocation. At age 16, Carradine made his acting debut as the understudy to his brother Keith in a Florida production of "Tobacco Road," which also starred their famous father. His first television appearance came at about the same time with a guest turn on a 1971 episode of "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-1973). Even more auspicious was his prominent role alongside none other than the legendary John Wayne in the feature film "The Cowboys" (1972), as one of a group of youngsters who become men over the course of an arduous cattle drive under the no-nonsense tutelage of the Duke. The film proved a hit with audiences and Carradine, along with teen actor A. Martinez, where singled out as standouts among their fresh-faced co-stars.
Now firmly entrenched in the family business, Carradine appeared alongside both father and brother in an early 1972 episode of David Carradine's popular action-adventure series "Kung Fu" (ABC, 1972-75). He then made a brief film appearance as "the boy with gun," shooting his brother David dead in Martin Scorsese's gritty tale of New York City's criminal underbelly, "Mean Streets" (1973). Looking for that one project that would take his burgeoning career to the next level, Carradine reprised his role as Slim for the TV spin-off of "The Cowboys" (ABC, 1974), a short-lived effort unfortunately hampered by a reduced running time and lack of studio support. Looking to establish himself in feature films, he, like his brother David, looked to low-budget fare to make his mark, appearing as a nerdy hippie in the exploitation shocker "Massacre at Central High" (1976), in addition to his first starring role as Johnny Crystal in the teen sex romp "The Pom Pom Girls" (1976). That same year, Carradine utilized one of his own passions for a supporting role in the Paul Bartel-directed "Cannonball" (1976), as a driver competing in an illegal cross-country race against the more seasoned title character, played by David Carradine.
Poised for breakout success, Carradine co-starred with young up-and-comers Melanie Griffith, Anne Lockhart and Desi Arnez, Jr. in the semi-comic road movie "Joyride" (1977). And while that project failed to gain traction with audiences, the young thespian garnered substantial praise for his portrayal of a traumatized Vietnam veteran in Hal Ashby's "Coming Home" (1978) opposite stars Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. In one of the most unique casting coups of the decade, Robert, David and Keith Carradine all performed together onscreen as the outlaw Younger brothers in Walter Hill's visceral Western, "The Long Riders" (1980). Maintaining the sibling authenticity to an almost obsessive degree, the film also starred James and Stacy Keach (as Jesse and Frank James), Dennis and Randy Quaid (as Ed and Clell Miller) and Christopher and Nicholas Guest (as Charley and Robert Ford). Another memorable leading role that same year came as a member of the ensemble cast that featured Mark Hamill and Lee Marvin in director Samuel Fuller's tough-as-nails WWII adventure "The Big Red One" (1980). Unfortunately, as well regarded as each film would become in the years that followed, neither achieved the immediate commercial success Carradine had hoped for, or the popular recognition he deserved for his work in the projects.
Returning to television a few years later, he performed admirably as the would-be writer Robert Cohn in the telefilm remake of "The Sun Also Rises" (NBC, 1984), but it was a low-brow comedy feature that same summer that unexpectedly delivered Carradine the role with which he would be most closely associated. A sort of "Animal House" (1978) for the pocket pencil-protector set, "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984) followed childhood pals Lewis (Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) as they battled a fraternity of lunk-headed jocks and eventually earned the respect nerds had been denied for so long. Much to everyone's surprise, "Revenge of the Nerds" was one of the biggest hits of the summer and soon secured its place in the annals of pop culture. In addition to continuing forays into the world of racing - in 1985 Carradine and his team's Corvette won the United States Endurance Cup - he repeated a role he had originated on stage in the affecting AIDS drama "As Is" (Showtime, 1986). Predictably, he returned to the role of Lewis in "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" (1987) then delivered a turn as a former hippie who reluctantly gives up his materialistic yuppie lifestyle at the behest of his old radical cohorts (Cheech Marin and Eric Roberts) in the lightweight comedy "Rude Awakening" (1989).
The 1990s saw Carradine reprising his Lewis role in two TV-movie sequels - both of which he co-produced - "Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation" (Fox, 1992) and "Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love" (Fox, 1994). Although not involved in either of those efforts, his old "Nerds" castmate Anthony Edwards did reunite with Carradine for a 1995 episode of the former's medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) in which Carradine played a man impersonating a physician. Soon after, the actor enjoyed a family reunion of sorts with brother David on a pair of episodes of his series reboot "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" (syndicated, 1993-97). Vying to replace his recognition as Lewis from "Revenge of the Nerds" was Carradine's regular cast role as Sam McGuire, teen queen Hilary Duff's onscreen father on the popular family sitcom "Lizzie McGuire" (Disney Channel, 2001-04). Still keeping a foot in feature films, Carradine later played a young Channing Tatum's father in the sports-actioner "Supercross" (2005) and joined Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones for the post-Apocalyptic thriller "Tooth and Nail" (2007), part of After Dark Film's "Horrorfest" film festival that year.
In a somewhat meatier role, he appeared as an assassin, intent on taking out a hard-headed Massachusetts police chief (Tom Selleck) in the made-for-TV movie "Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt" (CBS, 2012), the latest installment of the franchise based on the popular series of crime novels by Robert B. Parker. Though uncredited, Carradine turned up in one of the more talked about feature films of his career with a brief cameo in Quentin Tarantino's violent ode to the spaghetti western, "Django Unchained" (2012). Nearly 30 years later, however, the persona of that lovable nerd Lewis still exerted a pull on Carradine's career. Along with Curtis Armstrong - Booger from "Revenge of the Nerds" - Carradine co-hosted "King of the Nerds" (TBS, 2013-15), a reality competition on which contestants attempted to complete various tasks in an effort to win prize money and the honor of being crowned the greatest nerd of them all.
By Bryce P. Coleman
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