As first reported by TMZ, then confirmed on Twitter by Los Angeles publicist Bumble Ward and production company Regency Enterprises, Fast & Furious franchise star Paul Walker died Saturday afternoon in a car accident in Valencia, California. Walker was 40. The actor's Facebook page later made a statement that Walker was leaving a charity event for his humanitarian aid organization, Reach Out Worldwide, and was riding as a passenger in a friend's car when they both died in a collision. According to Deadline, the car struck a tree in Rye Canyon Loop. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Walker got his start in show business as a baby in a Pampers commercial. As a young adult, he had guest roles on Who’s The Boss?, The Young And The Restless, and Touched By An Angel, and transitioned to movies in the Disney flop Meet The Deedles, as one of two surf bums who ends up as a park ranger at Yellowstone.
Other film roles followed, including a small part in Gary Ross’ Pleasantville, and the role of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s friend in She's All That, before Walker broke out as injured starting quarterback Lance Harbor in Varsity Blues. Though a modest success at the box office and receiving only mixed reviews, Varsity Blues became an enduring classic teen film, thanks in no small part thanks to Walker’s role as James Van Der Beek’s best friend, and the player most affected by Jon Voight’s win-at-all-costs coaching strategy.
It was notable enough to get Walker cast as LAPD officer Brian O’Conner, opposite Vin Diesel’s professional street racer Dom Toretto, in 2001’s The Fast And The Furious. At the time, it was seen as just a spin on Point Break with street racing that borrowed its title from a 1955 Roger Corman B-movie; it went on to spawn one of the most successful franchises in the world.
Walker starred in all of the Fast & Furious movies save 2006's Tokyo Drift, eventually reuniting with Diesel in the fourth chapter. Fast & Furious was a critical dud, but it outgrossed the previous three films, and signaled that it wasn’t just the cars that put butts in seats, but rather the interplay between Walker, Diesel, and the rest of the recurring cast. And under the direction of Justin Lin, Walker and that ensemble helped transform Fast & Furious from a financially successful punch line into a critically defended action franchise, a rare turnaround for a long-running action series.
Walker appeared in plenty of other films—Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers, the underrated Running Scared—and had recently been announced as the star of a Hitman reboot, but Fast & Furious defined his career. Fast & Furious 7 just started filming in September. Its future is now uncertain.