By Blake Z. Rong, Crain News Service
DETROIT (Dec. 4, 2013) — I met Paul Walker earlier this year when Lexus invited us to Willow Springs in California to drive the LFA.
“Oh please,” I thought at the time. “Why the hell did they invite him? Just because he made some car movies or something?”
As it turned out, Mr. Walker was an immensely quick driver—one who hung with and even outpaced Ken Gushi, one of Japan's top competitors in the sport of drifting. Eventually, they let him and his friend Ryan have free reign over the Streets of Willow.
More importantly, perhaps, Mr. Walker was also funny, self-deprecating, a good storyteller; he raved about his experience driving at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2010, where it “pissed rain” and his team lost an engine. Incidentally, his co-driver was Roger Rodas—who was driving the Porsche that crashed last weekend, killing both men.
It's a bit of a Hollywood cliché to remark how nice a celebrity is—“Oh my God, he posed for pictures and everything!” the starstruck are quick to gush. But you know what? Mr. Walker did indeed pose for pictures. And the Toyota crew, the journalists, the videographers and those who had never met him before were all grateful to know the big-time Hollywood heartthrob who played with the same cars that we loved, who never checked his enthusiasm, who wore his passion on his short sleeves.
He was one of us, we declared. And you know what? We were right.
You know what else? He never did buy that LFA.
The Movie Star
Mr. Walker was taller in real life.
It's practically a trope of cinema and celebrity that action heroes are smaller in person than you'd imagine—think Tom Cruise here—and after five increasingly outlandish “Fast and Furious” movies, it's kosher to consider Mr. Walker an all-out action star. But, he wasn't short—it's just easy to look short next to The Rock.
If you asked a sheltered Scandinavian to describe what a Californian boy looks like, he'd be hard-pressed to come up with someone other than blond, easygoing Mr. Walker. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He wore flip-flops to the desert. And he was realistic about his celebrity.