The late great Paul Walker was not just one of Hollywood’s most popular action heroes. He also appeared to be one of its most generous. And one of his random acts of kindness made a war veteran and his partner’s dreams come true. The heartwarming story only came out after Walker’s untimely death. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the star’s giving nature, it definitely has the ring of truth about it.
Born in Glendale, California, in 1973, Paul Walker began his showbiz career at the tender age of two, modeling diapers for a TV ad. By his mid-teens the young hopeful had graduated to low-budget movies, acting in the comedy-horror film Monster in the Closet and action flick The Retaliator. Walker also popped up in he popular TV sitcom Who’s the Boss? and this garnered more work on the small screen. He scored TV credits for the recurring roles of Jeremy Beatty in the comedy Throb and Brandon Collins in soap opera The Young and the Restless.
Nevertheless, big-screen producers soon came a-calling and, after starring in 1998 comedies Meet the Deedles and Pleasantville, Walker became a teen-movie regular. There were supporting roles in football drama Varsity Blues, college thriller The Skulls and hit rom-com She’s All That. But his career moved into high gear when he was cast alongside Vin Diesel as the star of The Fast and the Furious in 2001.
Walker raced up the Hollywood A-list rankings with appearances in five further installments of the high-octane franchise. He also cemented his new-found action-hero status with roles in Into the Blue, Running Scared and Vehicle 19. But Walker’s performances in road-movie horror Joy Ride, sci-fi flick Timeline, Disney picture Eight Below and Clint Eastwood’s war epic, Flags of Our Fathers, also showcased the Californian actor’s versatility.
However, Walker’s private life also displayed some varied interests. The star had a passion for marine biology and majored in the subject at community college. In 2006 he even became a board member of The Billfish Foundation conservation agency. Walker incorporated this interest into his screen career when he filmed Shark Men, a National Geographic Channel documentary about the tagging of great whites.
However, he was also doing his bit for human conservation, and in 2011 a teenage daughter from a previous relationship, Meadow Rain, came to live with him in California. He was also looking out for other human beings, and had founded the humanitarian organization Reach Out Worldwide the year before. But it would be this altruism that would indirectly lead to the star’s untimely demise. Tragically, Walker was cut down in his prime when he was killed in a car accident after leaving one of his charity’s events in November 2013. He had been a passenger in friend Roger Rodas’ Porsche Carrera GT when the vehicle spun out of control.
Consequently, the car hit two trees then smashed into a concrete lamp post and caught fire. Both Walker and the driver’s bodies were burned so badly that they were left unrecognizable. Ironically, a subsequent investigation into the accident found that the vehicle’s speed of somewhere between 80-93mph was partly to blame. Rodas was 38, Walker was 40. He left behind his 23-year-old girlfriend, Jasmine Pilchard-Gosnell, and his teenaged daughter.
Nevertheless, Walker was still big box-office and he starred in several films released after his death. These included Hurricane Katrina-based drama Hours, the English-language remake of French action movie District 13, and the movie he was making at the time of his death, Furious 7. Filming on the latter was completed with the use of CGI and his brothers Cody and Caleb standing in as his body doubles.
Alongside these posthumously released films, Walker’s memory was also kept alive by a hugely heartwarming human interest story. Just a week after the tragedy, in early December 2013, it emerged that, for the recently deceased star, sometimes charity had begun at home. Irene King, a sales assistant at Bailey Banks and Biddle Jewelers in Santa Barbara, CA, told CBS Los Angeles about the time she had served Walker back in 2004. The star had purchased a $10,000 engagement band at the store, but interestingly it was not for Pilchard-Gosnell.
It just so happened that Walker was browsing in the jewelry store while a soldier on some down time was there with his partner, looking for an engagement ring. King recalled, “She saw something that she really, really liked, but he said, ‘Honey, I can’t afford that.’” The action star had apparently overheard this conversation, and what he did next was both fast and generous.
King revealed, “He called the manager and he said, ‘Umm, the ring that those people are looking at – put it on my tab.’ Soon after that, he just left.” Walker wanted to keep his identity under wraps, so the store simply told the happy couple that their engagement present was an anonymous random act of kindness.
Indeed, the mystery of their secret benefactor would endure for the happy couple in question – Kristen and Kyle Upham – for years. The pair only discovered that their engagement ring had been gifted to them by a bona-fide Hollywood superstar once King’s story went viral. Kristen later told CBS, “It’s still to this day the most generous thing anyone has ever done for me.”
In fact, Kristen and Kyle had already walked down the aisle when they visited the Santa Barbara store. The couple had chosen to marry quickly after learning that Kyle was being deployed to Iraq earlier that year. But on his safe return, they decided to belatedly look for that perfect engagement ring.
Kristen relayed her memories of the day while speaking to CBS in December 2013. “I noticed there was someone else in there but didn’t give it much thought,” she remembered. “We started looking at rings and what not, and [Kyle] kept wanting me to go bigger and I kept saying, ‘No, look at the prices.’” Of course, that “someone else” just happened to have been one of Hollywood’s hottest stars.
It was actually Kyle who first recognized one of the most famous faces in the world. The serviceman then struck up a conversation with the Fast and Furious star. But it was Walker who turned out to be the most impressed when they talked about each other’s jobs. Kristen told CBS, “When he found out Kyle had just come back [from Iraq], I remember seeing the look in his face. It kind of transformed.”
A disappointed Kyle and Kristen then left the jewelers empty-handed. But just moments later they were called back by store clerk King. As Kristen recalled, “One of the ladies came out holding a bag and just simply said, ‘Here’s your ring’ and I think both of our mouths dropped.”
Kristen explained to CBS what happened next. “I think after a couple of minutes of shell shock it finally sunk in and we were like… ‘How, who bought it?’” she said. “[King] just smiled at me and said it was better not to say.” And the Uphams were left in the dark about their furtive philanthropist for the next nine years.
But when she found out, Kristen paid tribute to Walker. “His real life speaks volumes of his character,” she said. “He really did put his money where his mouth is and did good for this world.” Indeed, as we have learned, Walker was returning from a Reach Out Worldwide event on the day of his death. The non-profit organization’s fundraiser was aimed at helping victims of a Philippines typhoon.
And it appears that the star has passed on his charitable nature to his daughter. In 2015 Meadow Walker launched a foundation named after her father to honor his “passion for the ocean, his passion for rescuing animals, his passion for helping people and his passion for spontaneous goodwill.” She explained on the charity’s website, “I wanted to start this foundation because I want to share that piece of him with the world.”
Additionally, on what would have been Paul Walker’s 44th birthday on September 12, 2017, she launched her “Do Good” challenge. Alongside a throwback photo featuring a young Meadow with her father, the teen tweeted the names of four nominees. She urged them to do an act to pay it forward and similarly name four others to do likewise. Meadow revealed that her act of kindness had been to donate food to a nearby homeless shelter. After all, it’s what dad would have wanted.