Hall of Fame: Paul Kersey
Being a vigilante isn’t easy. Being a vigilante for over 20 years is damn near impossible, but that is exactly what Paul Kersey, our first inductee into the 2015 class of the Bulletproof Action Hall of Fame, is known for. Kersey killed criminal scum in the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s. I think Batman is the only vigilante who has had a longer run than the architect by day/vigilante by night, Paul Kersey.
The Paul Kersey character was adapted from the character of Paul Benjamin in Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel, Death Wish. Charles Bronson brought the character to life in 1974 when the first Death Wish movie hit theaters that summer. The character of Paul Kersey really struck a chord with audiences. Seeing an every day guy stand up and defend himself in extreme fashion, made Kersey a hero to those who were afraid to leave their homes at night and people fed up with the rise in crime through out the United States. Death Wish spent four weeks on top of the box office.
If Death Wish was the beginning and end of the Paul Kersey character in the movies, that single film would have made the Kersey character Hall of Fame worthy. When you have audiences standing up and cheering in the theater, you have done something special. But fortunately for everyone there was a lot more Kersey to come…
In the early 1980’s, Cannon Films acquired the rights to produce a sequel to Death Wish. Nearly eight years after the original film had been released, Death Wish II hit theaters and Paul Kersey was back, this time going after the men who raped and killed his daughter.
In 1985, Kersey was back in New York and bringing his brand of justice to the streets in the cinematic masterpiece known as Death Wish 3. In the third go around, Kersey wipes out an entire street gang. This movie spent two weeks at the top of the box office, the only Death Wish sequel that achieved #1 status.
The continued box office success of the franchise, would see Kersey wage war on drugs and drug dealers in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown in 1987. Kersey would take on the mob in the fifth and final installment of the Death Wish franchise, Death Wish V: The Face of Death.
In total, Paul Kersey killed 117 criminals over the course of the 5 Death Wish films. That is a lot of damage for one guy, especially one who was 53 years old when he got into “that line of work” and 73 years old when we last saw him. To put that number in perspective, that is the same number of kills as Freddy Krueger (46 kills) and Michael Myers (71 kills) combined and they appeared in more movies than the Kersey character!
The Death Wish films and Paul Kersey got some unwanted press when a real life New Yorker, Bernhard Goetz, shot four men in a subway car when they attempted to mug him. The press dubbed Goetz “The Subway Vigilante” and comparisons were made to Goetz an the character of Paul Kersey.
The Paul Kersey character was parodied by The Simpsons, when a clip of a movie review of Death Wish 9 is shown in the “A Star is Burns” episode featuring Kersey in a hospital bed and saying “I wish I was dead.”. Years later the Roger character in another animated series, American Dad!, would don a Paul Kersey like disguise in an episode titled “The One That Got Away”.
More recently, Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump brought up the movie Death Wish and Charles Bronson’s portrayal of Paul Kersey when discussing gun laws here in the United States at a campaign stop.
Perhaps the most significant impact of the Paul Kersey character, is the impact it had on the career of the man who played him, Charles Bronson. The character of Paul Kersey made Charles Bronson a big movie star in the United Sates. Prior to Death Wish, Bronson was a star and box office attraction in Europe and Asia, but wasn’t seen as a major star in Hollywood.
It is my extreme honor to induct Paul Kersey into the Bulletproof Action Hall of Fame.
Be sure to check back every Tuesday in December as we induct more members into the 2015 Class of the Bulletproof Action Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame that honors the most memorable and greatest characters in action entertainment history.