The Enduring (and Endearing) Legacy of Paul Walker

Why we fell in love with Paul Walker and why we still miss him so much to this day.

With all due respect, I have to say I don’t generally care all that much when celebrities pass away. I’m not bragging about it, of course – I’m just saying there’s a distinct lack of an emotional connection to A-list bigwigs that prevents me from feeling anything at all, really, other than maybe shock, when their bright and creative minds go to a better place.

When my favorite author, Michael Crichton, passed away a few years back, I was definitely in shock, but I wasn’t crying or anything. I’ve never cried when someone famous died and I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that.

That was my initial reaction when Paul Walker, who most people know as Brian from The Fast and the Furious franchise, passed away in a car accident. I don’t remember where I was when I heard the news and I don’t even remember what year it happened. That may sound cold, obviously, but I’m just trying to illustrate the point that at the time, he was just another Hollywood name who died tragically early under unfortunate circumstances.

Fast forward to late 2014 and early 2015 and things became very different. My buddy Kevin and I started to watch the movies one at a time over the course of several months and the timing was pretty damn exceptional – I think I saw Fast & Furious 6 a few weeks before Furious 7 came out.

Kevin had seen the movies before. I hadn’t. And that’s when I started to really like Paul Walker, or at least the character of Brian.

Because Furious 7 was going to be released soon, his costars like Ludacris and Michelle Rodriguez were busy promoting the movie. It’s no secret they were quite emotional because they were all thinking of Walker all the time. Vin Diesel in particular was notably inconsolable, as we all know, and there was a lot of talk about the idea of them being a family extended beyond just their film roles.

Ludacris especially was sharing a lot of sentimental photos and memories on social media, which he still does, and it was obvious Walker’s costars felt a very genuine type of pain that exceeded the typical condolences expressed by celebrities when one of their brethren dies (not that I’m taking anything away from those messages, of course).

There were also those ethically dubious videos on the internet showing guys like Tyrese Gibson visiting the crash site and just breaking down in absolute despair and horror. Obviously I’m not going to share those here because that would be in poor taste.

While Walker’s costars were noticeably suffering, millions of people were suffering immediately after the news of his death came out. After all, The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of Universal’s most lucrative film franchises, so a lot of people have seen at least one of the movies. But it was still unusual seeing so many people expressing their sadness over the death of someone they’d never met before and who wasn’t exactly considered a household name.

In that sense, I found myself in something of a unique position: I was able to watch Walker’s performances and growth as an actor for the very first time and it was after he had died. That’s also when things continued to get murky and surprising.

It we’re being brutally honest, Walker wasn’t a great actor or even a particularly good one. He was all charm, like what Tom Cruise could have been if he wasn’t so dedicated to committing to each role. That’s not a knock against Walker, of course, but it’s hard to argue against the idea of Brian O’Conner being the quintessentially perfect role for him.

Walker was a chill guy from California through and through with a sense of charismatic and youthful energy that allowed him to get away with saying stuff like this. Remember: Walker was over forty when he passed away, which surely shocked a lot of people – he looked incredibly young for his age.

As the franchise grew larger and larger, Walker found himself suddenly doing things like complex fight choreography against multiple guys with shanks. And that might have been surprising too, because the character of Brian hadn’t really shown much fighting ability in the earlier movies.

But just like Brian evolved, so did Walker; he had a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and was posthumously awarded a black belt. In many ways, the two individuals were the same person, and that was something that is still confirmed by his costars. Brian was loyal and funny and kind and athletic – so was Paul Walker. Both loved cars and racing.

Both were lovable guys and while his costars knew that about him in real life, people like you and me fell in love with the character. It just happened to line up perfectly and Paul Walker was every bit the cool dude that Brian was.

I’m sure he had his flaws, like all humans do, and it was Kevin who once again brought a dose of reality into my life a few days ago after we watched The Visit. He mentioned some kind of “scandal” from Walker’s past where he had allegedly been dating a girl many years younger than him.

It’s not something I wanted to hear because we all have this idea in our heads that he was some kind of angel sent from a different planet to entertain us with cheesy yet fun racing/action/heist films while being a very affable and funny and kind guy.

Another thing that has to be mentioned is the very true fact that most of us know him ONLY from The Fast and the Furious franchise. It we saw his other movies and he was a jerk in one or a villain in another, maybe our thoughts might be a little different. It’s like Adam Scott: if you only know him from Parks and Recreation, your opinion of him might be different than someone who’s seen his roles as a jackass in films like Step Brothers.

And yet, while I can’t say I’m a credible source, nor is the general public, I do think his costars are very credible. And when I read about Vin Diesel naming his daughter after Paul Walker, or when I have the misfortune of seeing Tyrese Gibson’s incredibly visceral and heartbreaking reaction at the crash site, I know Paul Walker was someone who may have not been perfect, but was damn close to it.

Sure, there are other factors at play here too. Walker definitely died much earlier than he should have and emotional appeal was never used as effectively as the tribute in Furious 7 as well as “See You Again” by Whiz Kalifa and Charlie Pluth.

I said before I never cried because a celebrity died?

I did burst into tears when I watched the tribute in the privacy of my home (I of course held it together in the movie theater because lots of girls were there) and I still tear up whenever I hear “See You Again,” which certain friends of mine like to tease me about.

But it felt like I had lost a friend and I think a lot of people felt the same way. For whatever reason, The Fast and the Furious family felt like they were our friends. And when Paul Walker died, a friend of ours died, even if we never knew him personally.

So yeah, I fucking cried. Am I ashamed?

Forget about it, cuh.

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