LOS ANGELES – A fiery car crash north of Los Angeles has killed 40-year-old Paul Walker, the star of the Fast & Furious movie series, and one other person in the vehicle.
Deputies found a Porsche Carrera GT engulfed in flames when they responded to a report of a collision Saturday afternoon in the community of Valencia, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. Two people who were found in the car were pronounced dead at the scene.
A statement on Walker’s Facebook page said he was a passenger in a friend’s car, and that Walker was in the area to attend a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide. He formed Reach Out Worldwide in 2010 to aid people struck by natural disasters. The Sheriff’s Department said that speed was a factor in the crash.
The Santa Clarita Valley Signal reported that the Porsche crashed into a light pole and tree and burst into flames. The fundraiser, to benefit victims of Typhoon Haiyan, took place at a nearby racecar shop. Attendees rushed to put out the flames with fire extinguishers to no avail.
“All of us at Universal are heartbroken,” Universal Pictures, which has released the Fast & Furious franchise, said in a statement. “Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the `Fast and Furious’ films, and to countless fans.”
His Fast & Furious co-star Vin Diesel posted a photograph of him and Walker arm-in-arm on Instagram with the message: “Brother I will miss you very much. I am absolutely speechless.”
Walker rode the Fast & Furious franchise to stardom, starring in all but one of the six action blockbusters, beginning with the first film in 2001.
The son of a fashion model and a sewer contractor, Walker grew up in a working class, Mormon household in Glendale, Calif. The oldest of five siblings, Walker’s mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler. Walker has said the early induction to show business wasn’t to start him on a career path, but as a way to help provide for the family.
Producer Neal H. Moritz cast him in The Fast and the Furious as an undercover police officer Brian O’Conner. Adapted from a Vibe magazine article about underground street races, the film became an unexpected hit.
In the sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Walker moved to center stage with Diesel temporarily dropping out. Though his stardom didn’t make as much of an impact outside the Fast & Furious series, Walker continually drew praise from his co-stars and directors as a kind-hearted and eager collaborator.
“Your humble spirit was felt from the start,” Ludacris, Walker’s Fast & Furious co-star, said on Twitter. “Wherever you blessed your presence you always left a mark, we were like brothers.”
Fast & Furious proved enduring. Released in May, Fast & Furious 6 was the most lucrative of them all, grossing more than $788 million worldwide. The seventh installment began shooting in September, with a release planned for July. The film’s production was on break with more shooting to be done. Walker stars in the upcoming Hurricane Katrina drama Hours, which Lionsgate’s Pantelion Films is to release Dec. 13.
A friend of Walker’s who attended the fundraiser Saturday, Bill Townsend, told AP Radio, “He was very happy. He was smiling at everybody, just tickled that all these people came out to support this charity. He was doing what he loved. He was surrounded by friends, surrounded by cars.” Walker is survived by his 15-year-old daughter.