Carradine, however, later studied the techniques and philosophy of martial arts and made a number of instructional videos.
A self-described Hollywood outsider, Carradine early on had a reputation for what an Associated Press writer in 2004 described as "a quick-to-anger actor and hard-drinking partier." But he reportedly gave up drinking in 1996 and candidly discussed his past drinking and drug use, primarily involving what Carradine described as "a lot of psychotropic drugs."
Carradine, who appeared in the 1985 TV mini-series "North and South," appeared mostly in small independent films over the last few decades.
"He's been undervalued as an actor," Stacy Keach, a longtime friend who co-starred with Carradine in "The Long Riders" and "Gray Lady Down," told the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., in 2004. "David is a real practitioner in details, nuance, which is where great art lives. He has a reservoir of imagination and a totally unique point of view about everything."
Carradine returned to the limelight several years ago when Tarantino cast him in “Kill Bill,” with Uma Thurman.
"Playing in 'Kill Bill' helped," Carradine told the Austin American-Statesman in 2005. "Up until then everyone was saying 'Grasshopper.' Now everyone says 'Bill.' "
Tarantino, who is known for resurrecting the careers of veteran actors, reportedly tailored the role of Bill for Carradine.
"David Carradine -- Caine! -- I grew up with this guy," Tarantino said before the release of "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" in 2003. "He was so cool as Caine. He was always the cool one. He's the coolest in 'Kill Bill.' He is Bill."
His performance in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” earned Carradine a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.
In a 2004 interview with the Baltimore Sun while promoting "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," Carradine said: "I've never been satisfied about anything in my entire life. I'm on Social Security, I've got my pension, and the fact remains that I'm still trying to make a name for myself."
Born in Hollywood on Dec. 8, 1936, Carradine studied music theory and composition at San Francisco State. He developed an interest in acting while writing music for drama department revues and joined a Shakespearean repertory company.
Carradine, who had a two-year stint in the Army in the early '60s, appeared on Broadway in the mid-'60s in "The Deputy" and "The Royal Hunt of the Sun."
Around the same time, he also made guest appearances on TV series such as "Wagon Train" and "The Virginian" and starred in the short-lived 1966 western series "Shane."
Carradine's survivors include his wife, Anne Bierman Carradine, and children. A complete list of surviving family members was not immediately available.
Times staff writer Valerie J. Nelson contributed to this report.