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Paul Walker: A Life in the Fast Lane

Aired January 19, 2014 - 17:30   ET



PAUL WALKER, ACTOR: Into the tunnel. Let's use the tunnel.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We knew him as fast and furious, a California surfer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember him, sandy beach hair in surf trunks paddling out into the water.

GRADY SMITH, "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY": He had the blue eyes, the blond hair, a prototypical California heartthrob.

TURNER: Turned megawatt movie star.

ROB COHEN, DIRECTOR: I thought, this young guy is so full of light. He really can act.

TURNER: But so much of Paul Walker's passion was played off- screen.

SMITH: He always said he was kind of one foot in, one foot out with the whole Hollywood game.

WALKER: That is the fruits of our labor yesterday, making a scramble to Port-au-Prince.

SMITH: He was a philanthropist.

WALKER: One busload of people just came in and needs help.

J.D. DORFMAN, OPERATIONS MANAGER, REACH OUT WORLDWIDE: It was very cool to see someone on the screen who portrays this hero and then to actually work with him and go, whoa, whoa, whoa. You are actually just as big of a big hero in real life.

TURNER: He was a father and friend.

COHEN: He's just such a lovable man.

TURNER: And then the tragic crash that took his life.

DORFMAN: We all lost a friend in this.

COHEN: I can't -- I can't really believe it. It's just not fair. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get away. It's going to blow up. It might blow up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The car is in half. I can't tell if there's someone in there.

TURNER: Cell phone video captures the horror.


ANTONIO HOLMES, WITNESS: There was nothing. We tried. We went think fire extinguishers.

TURNER: A day that ended in tragedy started with charity, Movie star Paul Walker at an annual event for his foundation, Reach Out WorldWide.

DORFMAN: We were collecting toys and donations so we can distribute them around.

TURNER: J.D. Dorfman runs operations for the charity Walker co- founded.

DORFMAN: He just came out to show his support, to thank everybody. He wasn't there for the pictures, just normal Paul.

TURNER: Just normal Paul pursuing two of his great passions, helping others and showing off fast cars, including this rare Porsche worth nearly $500,000.

RANDY POBST, PROFESSIONAL RACE CAR DRIVER: They only brought about 600 into the U.S. back around 2004 to 2006.

TURNER: There is nothing ordinary about it, a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour, the engine in the middle of the car and oil changes costing $900.

POBST: It's a really finely tuned super high performance super car. Driving one really reminds me a lot of driving a race car. It has that kind of quick, razor-sharp reflexes.

TURNER: But have razor-sharp reflexes leaves a razor-thin margin for error on the road.

POBST: I love the power. You feel it right in the chest pushing you back when you push down the gas, but a car like the Carrera G.T. needs to be driven with great respect because it has so much power and capability.

TURNER: This photo is possibly the last ever taken of Walker, and there's the Porsche, a temptation that would lure him and a close friend, Roger Rodas, away from the charity event, not surprising for two men who were racing competitors and co-owners of a car customization shop.

It was speed, after all, that drove Walker's fame, "Fast and Furious," a cinematic fix for adrenaline junkies. Rob Cohen launched the franchise and pitched it to Walker.

ROB COHEN, DIRECTOR: It was over dinner that I said to him, you know, I'm developing a movie. We just got going on the script, but I'm developing a movie about this, you know, underground street racing world.

TURNER: Paul Walker, obsessed with amateur racing from an early age, didn't skip a beat.

COHEN: He said, I get the girl. I get the gun. I get the car and you're directing. He said, I don't have to wait for the script. I'm in.

TURNER: Explosions, stunts and speed. It was a dream come true for Walker.

WALKER: I really don't see how I could have more fun or making a movie could be more of a thrill than it was making this one.

TURNER: One film would turn into seven, with box office receipts topping $2 billion, theaters filled with moviegoers drawn into the action and to the lead actor for more than a decade.

COHEN: He's just such a lovable man. There's something in that spirit of life and lightness that just kept coming through and people were just very attracted to that.

TURNER: "Fast and Furious" would become a cultural phenomenon, a lucrative franchise of sequels, video games and merchandise.

WALKER: It feels good to be appreciated, especially when you're talking about 10 years, 10 years-plus of your life.

DORFMAN: One of the worst phone calls I have ever gotten. I was shocked. I was speechless. I didn't believe it was real.

TURNER: But it was real, not a scene from a movie.

ANTONIO HOLMES, WITNESS: From our location, it's a little difficult to know what it was. Someone called it in, said there was a vehicle fire.

TURNER: Paul Walker, Roger Rodas and the Porsche had not yet arrived back at the nearby charity event.

HOLMES: We all ran around, jumped in cars, grabbed fire extinguishers, like myself, and immediately went to the vehicle.

TURNER: But time wasn't on their side. Where witnesses had only seen smoke, now there was fire. It was too late.

HOLMES: It was engulfed in flames. There was nothing. They were trapped. And employees, friends of the shop, we tried.

TURNER: The car barely recognizable, two men now dead in an accident still under investigation, the site now transformed into a place to mourn and remember.

WALKER: Scotty and Diane, they're going to be my family.

TURNER: When we return, Paul Walker before he was "Fast and Furious."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Pick you up for practice tomorrow, OK?





TURNER (voice-over): Before he raced to fame as a hero cop on the big screen, Paul Walker played adorable on TV.

WALKER: But they want a little boy. And I'm a little boy. And me and Scotty are special.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, you're special.

SMITH: His mom had him doing a few child modeling little gigs here and there. He was never super passionate about acting as a young guy, but it's something he just kind of fell into very naturally.

TURNER: The son of a model and a sewer contractor, Walker was the oldest of four kids in a working-class Mormon home in Sunland, California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were just your pretty typical, normal family, but very loving, very close-knit.

Amber Leah (ph) was a childhood friend of Walker's.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most of his friends would typically call him pollywog. He had a contagious spirit. He was always smiling. His just effervescent personality was electric.

TURNER: At 13 years old, that electric personality landed Paul a string of roles in popular '90s sitcoms like "Who's the Boss?"

WALKER: High school isn't a picnic either.

TURNER: And "Charles in Charge."

WALKER: She just wanted to carry my books.

TURNER: But for this quintessential California kid, acting took a backseat.

SMITH: Paul Walker grew up in San Fernando Valley, and he loved surfing from a young age. He has always been fascinated by the ocean. Later, he became really into Brazilian jujitsu, and he was an athlete. He was a sportsman and he loved the outdoors, and, yes, he had the blue eyes, the blonde hair and the California surfer accent.

TURNER (on camera): How could you not love surfing looking like he looked?

SMITH: Right, right? I think for a lot of people, he became a prototypical California heartthrob.

TURNER (voice-over): A California heartthrob with a thing for cars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember when I got a Jetta, a Volkswagen Jetta my senior year, and he saw my car, and he said, oh, you know, that -- I'm not one who swears, but he said, oh, that car's bitching, which kind of caught me off guard that he was almost as excited about it as I was, even though I was the one who got to drive it.

DEAN LAGASSE, FORMER COACH OF PAUL WALKER: I don't think there's probably anything he couldn't have done.

TURNER: Walker played junior varsity football at Village Christian High School. Dean Lagasse was his coach.

LAGASSE: I remember him playing junior year, because we weren't particularly good that particular year, but he was playing safety. And looking back, I have coached a lot of games, but I will tell you that he had one of the two best hits I have seen in a J.V. football game.

TURNER (on camera): Really?

LAGASSE: Yes. And we got clocked in the game. I think we got beat like 40-0 or something like that, but he wasn't quitting.

TURNER (voice-over): Off the field, he kept his classmates entertained.

RAY ENDACOTT, FORMER TEACHER OF PAUL WALKER: I would say closer to class clown than laid-back.

TURNER (on camera): Really?

ENDACOTT: He had a great sense of humor and he had the smile, and so that was -- I think people appreciated his sense of humor.

TURNER (voice-over): By the time he graduated from high school, Walker's good looks and charm landed him a role on "The Young and the Restless."

WALKER: I'm telling you, Brian, you better off and leave the kid alone.

TURNER (on camera): Talk a little bit about the Paul Walker of his teenage years, because, I mean, he said, I smoked bowls and kind of panhandled and I kind of lived the transient life for a long time. I didn't really know where I was or what I was doing. SMITH: He might have liked couch-surfing here and there. And he liked traveling and going to surf for a few days and driving out into the wilderness. He spent 16 years basically living out of a suitcase.

TURNER (voice-over): When money got tight, Walker went back to acting on TV's "Touched By an Angel."

WALKER: That's it. That's great.

SMITH: And on the big screen in "Pleasantville."

WALKER: What is all the commotion?

SMITH: He played chip Martin, this all-American, cheeseburger- and Cherry Coke-loving basketball jock. And he was squeaky-clean and a super funny role in this morality satire. He is kind of the boy corrupted or enlightened by Reese Witherspoon. He made a big impression in that movie.

TURNER: The movie was a hit and finally a decent payday for Walker. That same year, some news he wasn't expecting.

SMITH: When Paul found out that his girlfriend at the time was pregnant, I think it rocked him. He went to a Christian school, and he didn't like the idea of having a child out of wedlock, and it scared him, and he also knew that he was a wild guy. He said, "I was sleeping with her friends at the time."

And it did not seem like a good idea to be -- to be married.

TURNER: With Walker focused on his playboy lifestyle, his daughter, Meadow, lived full-time with her mother in Hawaii, but having a daughter, Walker said, was a life-changer. He buckled down and got serious.

WALKER: I had a dream that we were beating Bingville 14-3.


TURNER (on camera): I think everyone started really paying attention to him when he was in "Varsity Blues."

SMITH: He was a supporting character that you really remembered. In "Varsity Blues," he played a football quarterback who's sidelined by a knee injury and it's a role that actually had a lot of heart in a kind of goofy movie.

TURNER (voice-over): But Walker craved a meatier role. He auditioned for the thriller "The Skulls."

COHEN: Paul came in and, you know, at first, he was like a surfer dude.

TURNER: Rob Cohen was directing.

COHEN: The first reading, it was more like he was, hey, man, I got tubed and it was for gnarly, right? And then I said, look, just say the lines, finish the endings on the words, and just do it like a guy with an education, because this kid would have gone to prep school and all that stuff.

So, Paul did it again. And he nailed it. I mean, he was like -- really could do it. And I thought, this young guy is so full of light, light. You know, it just came out of his eyes.

WALKER: How they know everything we do. They know everyplace we go.

COHEN: When we got to work on "The Skulls," then I saw, he really can act, you know? He's not just a presence. He was pushing emotions out and playing conflict.

TURNER: That performance convinced Cohen to develop a movie for Walker. He had Paul at hello.

COHEN: I said, well, well, you are an undercover cop who goes underground to bust up this world.

TURNER: Walker was in, and Cohen never looked back.

COHEN: We shook hands that night, and no matter what other forces tried to dislodge that agreement, I stuck to my guns, and Paul became Brian O'Conner.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Man, that guy's fast.

TURNER: Coming up: Walker becomes a bona fide movie star, but proves to be much more.

WALKER: That is the fruits of our labor yesterday, making a scramble to Port-au-Prince, and the timing was impeccable.




TURNER (voice-over): It's been 12 years since Paul Walker got the role of a lifetime, going from stud wingman to leading man.

Aging gracefully on screen as an action movie star, Paul Walker was also maturing off-screen.

(on camera): Most of us know Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner from "Fast and the Furious," that kind of gorgeous, ruggedly handsome, speed demon, action star. But you wrote that he was much more than that. How so?

SMITH: Yes. I think people didn't realize that Paul Walker had a full, vibrant life off the screen. He always said he was kind of one foot in, one foot out with the whole Hollywood game. TURNER (voice-over): Outside of the Hollywood game, Walker was deeply involved in the world of fast cars and even raced with a Hollywood club.

WALKER: My name is Paul Walker.

SMITH: He was a total auto head. He actually owned Always Evolving. It was a performance shop that really appealed to the car junkie that Paul Walker was.

TURNER: But Paul was much more than a car junky. He was also deeply committed to humanitarian relief. In 2010, Walker took a team to Haiti, helping in the aftermath of the major earthquake that devastated the small nation.

WALKER: We asked a bunch of people what they thought we should bring.

DORFMAN: He knew that you had to do something. No one knew what to expect, but all he knew was he was bringing medical equipment, water filtration, and he was going to do what he could.

When they got there, they did so much. For the first time, they were able to set up a hospital in an orphanage. And the experience that he came home with after that was, I have the opportunity to do something very special.

TURNER: And Walker wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.

(on camera): You talked about the fact that he went to Alabama to help with victims of the tornadoes. Lots of people talk about things they care about. He actually did something.

SMITH: Paul Walker didn't just talk the talk. He walked the walk. He cared about other people and he went and helped them.

DORFMAN: We were helping clear a house. It was 100 degrees. The humidity was through the roof. And we're just working with chain saws, just piling through, full gear on, sweating, working hard.

TURNER (voice-over): But then the homeowner realized that a Hollywood star was among those helping out.

DORFMAN: And the emotion that they expressed -- and this was someone who had just lost everything -- that someone, you know, with the name notoriety of Paul would just be there working to make their life a little better without -- you know, there was no camera crew, there was no nothing. It blew their mind.

TURNER (on camera): And that's interesting, because he was very private. He almost remained like a mystery to all of his fans, other than what they saw on screen.

SMITH: Yes. Paul Walker didn't go after a lot of press. He didn't necessarily want to be photographed. You didn't see him coming up in magazines. TURNER (voice-over): Sales woman Irene King recalls a day Paul Walker was in her jewelry star as an Iraq veteran and his fiancee were shopping for rings.

IRENE KING, JEWELRY SALESWOMAN: She saw something she liked. And they were looking at it. And she was trying this them on. And it turns that out they couldn't afford them.

TURNER: Paul Walker could afford a $10,000 ring.

KING: He wanted to help them out. And so he just out and out bought it for them. He went to the manager, and he was very specific about having it anonymous. He didn't want the couple to know that he was buying the ring for them.

TURNER: Walker's father, Paul Sr., says the generosity wasn't only extended the strangers.

PAUL WALKER SR., FATHER OF PAUL WALKER: He was always doing stuff for us, big gestures. He just -- his heart was so big. He'd go and have a family gathering and say, all the little kids, nieces and nephews with uncle Paul, and it was always, don't worry about college. I will take care of college. Just study hard.

TURNER: Walker never finished college himself, but even as his movie career took off his father knew junior was ready to slow down, to become a more present father for his daughter.

WALKER SR.: He was looking so forward to going to -- he wanted to take a hiatus and say, gosh, dad, she's 15. I ain't got much more time to be with her.

TURNER: Walker's words proved to be eerily prophetic, leaving behind those who loved him the most searching to make sense of his sudden death.

COHEN: Action!

TURNER: Friend and director Rob Cohen was devastated by the news.

COHEN: He called me his movie dad, and I feel like I have lost my son. I can't -- I can't really believe it. It's just not fair. That's what I keep thinking. It's just not fair.

TURNER: Walker's death had a similar effect on his Fast and Furious costarred, like Vin Diesel, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Tyrese Gibson.

Diesel visited the crash site to pay his respects.

VIN DIESEL, ACTOR: Thank you for coming down here and showing that angel up in heaven how much you appreciated him.


TURNER: Johnson took to Instagram, simply posting, "Love you, brother."

And Tyrese Gibson, with whom he was particularly close:

SMITH: We have seen him grieving on social media and at the crash site. And it's indicative of the fact they were very, very tight. And he had a good relationship, a very good relationship with his "Fast and Furious" cast mates.

TURNER: Days later, those cast mates released this tribute.

DIESEL: The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room.

TURNER: With his cast mates now grieving, "Fast and Furious 7" has been put on hold and the future of the franchise is uncertain. In the end, Walker left a lasting impression in life and death.

DORFMAN: You forgot that he was an actor. You forgot that he was a name. He was just -- he was a friend. We all lost a friend in this.

WALKER: Focus. It is right here. It's what's important. It's what's of the heart. It's family. It's friends. It's the rest.