SANTA CLARITA, CA — Stunned by his untimely death in a car wreck, fans, friends and family remembered actor Paul Walker — what he meant to them and what he did for them.
His father remembered him as a loving son who wanted to take a hiatus from acting. A fellow actor recalled how he had just celebrated Walker’s 40th birthday. And a U.S. military veteran will forever be grateful for a touching act of generosity.
Walker died in a fiery crash in Southern California on Saturday. He was in the passenger seat of a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, driven by a racing team partner, that slammed into a light pole and burst into flames in the community of Valencia, Santa Clarita, about 30 miles north of Hollywood.
The driver, identified by CNN affiliate KCAL-TV as Roger Rodas, also died.
Day and night Sunday, legions of fans gathered near the charred roadside where Walker died.
Tyrese Gibson, Walker’s co-star in several “Fast & Furious” movies, broke down as he laid a yellow flower at the site.
“My heart is hurting so bad no one can make me believe this is real,” the singer and actor posted on Instagram. He also shared the duo’s last text exchange.
Tales of Walker’s philanthropy are not new. CNN confirmed one story from a decade ago when Walker noticed a young U.S. soldier shopping with his fiancee for a wedding ring in a Santa Barbara jewelry store.
“The groom was just back from duty in Iraq, and he was going to be deployed again soon and wanted to buy a wedding ring, but he said he just could not afford it,” saleswoman Irene King told CNN. “I don’t think the soldier realized how expensive those rings are, about $10,000.”
The couple apparently did not know who Walker was, King said.
“Walker called the manager over and said, ‘Put that girl’s ring on my tab,’ ” she said. “Walker left all his billing info, and it was a done deal. The couple was stunned. She was thrilled and could not believe someone did this.”
King called it “the most generous thing I have ever seen.”
A grieving father
Walker Sr. choked back tears as he remembered his son.
“His heart was so big,” Paul Walker Sr. told CNN affiliate KCAL. “I was proud of him every day of his life.”
The actor told his father that he wanted to take a hiatus from acting to spend more time with his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow, Walker Sr. said.
“And then boom, he got another movie. He would say, ‘I don’t know what to do,'” the elder Walker said.
He said the actor’s siblings are having an especially hard time grappling with the death.
“I’m just … glad that every time I saw him, I told him I loved him,” Walker Sr. said. And he would say the same thing to me.”
Future of franchise
At the time of his death, he was working on the seventh film of the franchise, due out next year.
It’s unclear how the film’s production might proceed. When Oliver Reed died mid-production of “Gladiator,” the rest of his scenes included a digitally-produced image of his face on another actor’s body, Tom O’Neil, editor of the show business website Goldderby.com, told CNN.
In some cases, other actors have filled in for co-stars who have passed away.
“We don’t know what they’ll do here, or even if they’ll just say, “It may be tasteless to proceed at all because we can’t be showing Paul Walker in a speeding car, defying death in a movie that ended up being the way he died,'” O’Neil said.
Los Angeles Coroner Investigator Dana Bee said Sunday it would likely take 48 hours to officially identify the remains taken from the twisted wreckage. The families are gathering dental records for use in the identification, which is necessary because of the condition of the bodies, Bee said.
Speed was a factor in the crash, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said. A 45 mph speed limit sign was attached to the light pole knocked down by the Porsche.
The car, which sold for $450,000 when new, is a notoriously difficult vehicle to handle, even for professional drivers, according to Autoweek magazine. A top driver called it “scary,” the magazine reported Sunday. It is powered by a V-10, 610-hp engine.
The wreck took place about 3:30 p.m. just a few hundred yards from the shop owned by Rodas. Both men had attended a holiday toy drive for Walker’s charity, Reach Out Worldwide, hosted at the shop Saturday afternoon.
Antonio Holmes told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper that he was at the charity event when Walker and Rodas left for a ride in the Porsche.
“We all heard from our location,” Holmes told the Signal. “It’s a little difficult to know what it was. Someone called it in and said it was a vehicle fire. We all ran around and jumped in cars and grabbed fire extinguishers and immediately went to the vehicle. It was engulfed in flames. There was nothing. They were trapped. Employees, friends of the shop. We tried. We tried. We went through fire extinguishers.”
A crowd of grieving fans, curious onlookers and media surrounded the crash site for hours, watching as investigators and firefighters worked to extract the bodies from the wreckage.
Walker and Rodas had planned Saturday as a day to help survivors of victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The car shop website invited customers to the Charity Toy Drive & Automotive Social Gathering.
“During the holiday season, many economically disadvantaged children from around the world are faced with the same dilemma year after year; the lacking of joy and cheer,” the invitation read. “Our goal here is to be able to provide aid to these less fortunate children in hopes of helping them grow up to become confident, responsible and productive young adults.”
Walker’s charity is described as “a network of professionals with first responder skill-sets who augment local expertise when natural disasters strike in order to accelerate relief efforts.”
Box office success
Walker’s career began on the small screen, first with a commercial for Pampers when he was 2, and then with parts in shows such as “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel.”
His first few movie roles were as supporting characters in teen flicks, most notably in “Varsity Blues.” But his career really took off when he was cast as undercover cop Brian O’Conner infiltrating a street-racing gang in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.”
The box-office success of the surprise summer hit yielded numerous sequels. And along with Vin Diesel, Walker was one of the franchise stalwarts.
Walker wasn’t just a car enthusiast on the silver screen; offscreen, the actor competed in the Redline Time Attack racing series.
On his verified Twitter account, Walker described himself as an “outdoorsman, ocean addict, adrenaline junkie … and I do some acting on the side.”
Walker also is the star of “Hours,” an independent film scheduled to be released December 13 about a father struggling to keep his newborn infant alive in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
By Alan Duke and Holly Yan
CNN’s Alan Duke reported from Santa Clarita, and Holly Yan from Atlanta.
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