What The Last Twelve Months Of Paul Walker's Life Were Like

On November 30, 2013, the world was shocked to learn of Paul Walker's death. The 40-year old actor who rose to superstardom as the star of the Fast & Furious franchise tragically perished in a car accident in Santa Clarita, Calif. As the details of Walker's death, the traveling speed of the car, and the question marks surrounding the Porsche car that he died in dominated the news, many of the less controversial storylines took a backseat.

Though best known for playing Brian O'Connor from The Fast and the Furious through Furious 7, Walker showed off his chops in films like Joy Ride, Running Scared, and Flags of Our Fathers. He also had many other interests. While his diehard fans likely know about him, his ongoing projects, and his family, the general audience knows very little Walker. "I think so many people think, 'Oh, he was just a movie star who was killed in a car accident,' his mother, Cheryl, said in an interview with People. "But there was so much more to him. That was just a piece of who he was. He was an amazing man."

To help fill in just some of his story, we take a look at what the last twelve months of Paul Walker's life were like.

Paul Walker was more than just a pretty face

There's no denying that Paul Walker had some awe-inspiring looks. Though his attractiveness may have led him to many of his earlier acting roles, the focus on his looks genuinely rubbed Walker the wrong way. "I took some lumps and bumps, early on, and it jaded me. It made me somewhat cynical," he said in a Collider interview a few weeks before his death. "I realized that I was actually just a hot piece of young a**. That sucks, but that was the truth. That was a hard lesson for me. It still happens. The industry is still guilty. Now I know, but there's still a little bit of a chip. I'm still angry at the structure of things."

Many of Walker's earlier films saw him play the stereotypical brawny and beautiful roles. Eventually, those stereotypes bled into his real life and how people perceived him. But he was quite introspective and intelligent. In one of his last interviews, Walker articulated his thoughts on the meaning of life in a rather nice way. "The machine is life, just endlessly cranking, and we're running around, and we're trying to juggle all these balls, and we're running all over the place, and when they all hit the floor we panic," he said to Checa La Movie. "But there's really no need because focus, it's right here. It's what's important. It's what's of the heart. It's family. It's friends. The rest, pfft, nonsense."

Working through the pain

In April of 2013, Paul Walker started filming one of his last films, Brick Mansions, in Montreal. The role had the actor learning parkour and bounding throughout the city with the Parkour founder, David Belle. What wasn't shown on screen, however, was Walker grimacing through knee pain on set. According to the Los Angeles Times, the actor was still recovering from a knee injury when the filming was scheduled to begin. Rather than delay it for everyone, Walker chose to work through the pain.

The original injury was caused on the set of Fast and Furious 6, according to Deadline. In February of 2013, he had ACL repair surgery, just two months before shooting began. Matt Luber, Walker's manager of 18 years, could see he was struggling. "After a break, he was called to set, and I saw him limp over," Luber told the Los Angeles Times. "He looked back at me and said, 'Park ranger.' He'd always said he wanted to be one. He loved what he was doing, but he always ran with one foot in the business and one foot out."

Paul Walker was hoping for a change of pace

Paul Walker considered leaving the industry a few times. According to the Los Angeles Times, Walker was "apprehensive about being 'the guy'" from the start. By the time they were casting for the fourth film in the Fast franchise, he questioned his place in the industry. "He wanted to concentrate on fatherhood as well as other pursuits, such as working with wildlife and running his charity." 

In a later GQ interview, Walker spoke more about these possible life changes. "It's so funny, my daughter now lives with me full time and my original plan was to work up until I was 40 then reassess my life, even go in a completely different direction with things," he said. "She keeps encouraging me to do all this stuff. I thought at this point in my life I would need to be home with her, but she wants me to keep acting so she can travel around the world with me. Would that be so bad?"

According to Walker's father, Paul Sr., however, the quitting talk was serious. "Paul was planning on taking a break from starring in movies, and stepping away from Hollywood, to spend more time with Meadow," he said to the Daily Mail. "He was so proud of her, she is incredibly intelligent and beautiful, and Paul wanted to be there for her." Sure enough, Meadow grew up to be absolutely gorgeous and is now pursuing modeling.

Paul Walker had a full schedule

Paul Walker may have bandied about the idea of taking a hiatus from acting, but his schedule showed no signs of slowing down. While already committed to Furious 7, he was allegedly convinced that an eighth film was coming as well. At the MTV Movie Awards in 2015, Vin Diesel spoke about Walker's thoughts on the franchise. "Paul used to say that eight was guaranteed," he told MTV. "Seven was for Paul. Eight is from Paul."

Walker reportedly agreed to star in The Best of Me, a Nicholas Sparks' adaptation. He also signed on for the lead role in Agent 47, a reboot from the Hitman franchise, a film that producers hoped would reinvigorate that franchise. His father, however, didn't think those commitments were a true reflection of his feelings. Paul Sr. told the Daily Mail that "his late son wasn't happy committing to future Fast'n'Furious films as well as three more movies in an Agent 47 film series."

After Walker's untimely death, the Agent 47 role went to Rupert Friend, and his Best of Me part went to James Marsden. "All I can say about that is he is just one of those tremendous actors that was even that much more special of a human being," Marsden said to US Weekly. "You always want to be good stepping into a role like this but [it] felt a little bit more of an honor to play this role because of him."

Going fast

Paul Walker wasn't just the lead in a franchise about cars and racing — he lived that life. Speaking with Entertainment Tonight shortly before his death, he was asked if his love of cars was a macho thing. "You know, not a macho thing," he said. "In my family, that was just stuff we did. Like, that's just the way it was." In the I Am Paul Walker documentary, his sister, Ashlie, recalls his infatuation with cars and racing starting at a young age. "He liked to go fast," she said. "As soon as I was old enough to hang on tight, I was on the back of his big wheel with him going for the ride of my life."

In an interview with Motor Trend from the summer of 2013, the actor spoke about how finding the Fast and the Furious franchise was serendipitous for him and how close it was to his heart. After informing the studio that he was interested in racing cars on film in 2000, the studio approached him with an idea. "Universal came to me with a newspaper article about street racing in L.A. and I was like 'Are you kidding me? I grew up doing that right off Peoria in Sun Valley,'" he said. "Even though a lot of these guys have been around the cars when we're filming, they haven't lived with cars the way I have; they haven't spent time with cars on the track the way I have."

The always-franchise star

Despite taking part in six of the first seven Fast and the Furious films and five of the first six promotional tours for the franchise, Paul Walker never seemed to tire of talking about the movies. Sure, he once questioned if the franchise had overstayed its welcome and wondered if it had strayed too far from its roots. Nevertheless, his love of the films was never in doubt — even with all of the plot holes in the franchise.

Talking with The Hollywood Reporter, Walker spoke of how he identified with the main character, Brian O'Connor. "I will always be Brian," he said. "Rarely am I Paul, you know, especially with kids. You know, the Latino audience, I'm always Brian. I love that though. If they call me by my name, Paul, I know it's going to be some lame question, guaranteed."

In the summer before his death, while promoting Fast & Furious 6, Walker spoke about how the growing cast energized the franchise veterans. He also talked about how easy it was to continue working beside his long-time castmates. "I love Jordana [Brewster]. I've known her since she was 19 years old ... I would die for her in a heartbeat," he said to Coming Soon. "Everything feels so natural and just fluid. Then Vin coming up and playing Uncle Dom, it's like, we do that in our real life, you know. I do it with his kids, and he does it with my daughter."

Paul Walker was pursuing his marine life passions

Before Paul Walker started acting, he was majoring in marine biology in college. "I'd run out of funding for school," he said in a 2011 interview with Beauty and the Dirt. "The idea was to go back, and good fortune struck. I was quite lucky early on with the audition for Pleasantville. ... I thought I would make one movie and pay off my loans and go back and finish school. It just hasn't stopped."

Yet, neither did his love for the ocean. When he was asked by GQ what he wanted to accomplish before he died — tragically just months before it happened — his thoughts went to the water. "Inside I still feel certain things calling me," he said. "That's why I was doing the shark tagging recently and will be doing it again in two weeks on an island off Hawaii. I'm also going to go do the Grouper spawning."

Those two shark tagging expeditions were with Dr. Michael Domeier. At first, the marine biologist doubted Walker's involvement, but he soon saw his passion. "Paul was much happier in his life than I've ever seen him before," Domeier said of their time together on the water. "Sometimes I see people on social media that can be very mean: 'Oh, he's only there for ratings.' The irony is that's how I felt at first, too. But at the end, it wasn't true. He was doing it because he loved it."

The unfinished film

Filming for Furious 7 began in September of 2013, which, sadly, Paul Walker was unable to complete. Neal H. Moritz, the franchise's producer, told /Film that most of the actor's scenes were shot, but they still faced a challenge to finish the film. "We wondered how we were actually going to make this work," he said. "I have to say, he was looking down on us. Because of unused footage that we had from previous movies and the use of new technology, we were able to complete the film inspired by Paul's spirit and give him and his best-known character a perfect cinematic send-off."

That enormous task of recreating Paul Walker required the Weta Digital team to finish an astounding 350 shots. The hardest of those, according to visual-effects supervisor Martin Hill, were "scenes such as Paul sitting still, or delivering dialogue in closeup, because you don't have the action and the kinetic cutting to help distract from the effects" (via Variety). In addition to recreating scenes using older images of Paul, the team leaned on the Walker family, specifically Paul's brothers, Caleb and Cody, to fill in some of the gaps.

Paul Walker was a charitable spirit

After his death, news of Paul Walker's generosity began filtering through. Stories were told about the charitable efforts he kept quiet, like the support he gave in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after the 2011 tornado or in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. In fact, it was after the latter event that Walker founded Reach Out WorldWide (ROWW). He saw a need to connect the post-disaster people and places with the skilled resources they need, so he set about creating it.

According to the Inquirer, when Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, ROWW was one of the first disaster response teams on the ground. "Paul wasn't someone who would just write a check and lend his name to an organization; he was the heart and soul of Reach Out WorldWide," spokesperson JD Dorfman said, "Paul was the first one in and the last one out, he led by example and his hard work and dedication inspired everyone who had the privilege of working with him. ... Some people play a hero, Paul was a hero."

On the day of his death, Walker co-hosted a charity event called "Winter Drive," a toy drive to raise support for the Philippines' typhoon victims. It was shortly after leaving that event that the vehicle carrying Walker crashed and killed the actor.