Robert Reed Carradine is an American actor. The youngest of the Carradine family of actors, he made his first appearances on television western series such as Bonanza and his older brother David's TV series, Kung Fu. Carradine's first film role was in the 1972 film The Cowboys opposite John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne. Despite a lengthy and successful movie career, working with directors like Martin Scorsese and John Carpenter, Carradine is probably best known for portraying fraternity president Lewis Skolnick in the Revenge of the Nerds series of comedy films and father Sam McGuire on the Disney Channel sitcom Lizzie McGuire.
Carradine was born in Hollywood, California, the son of actress and artist Sonia Sorel (ne Henius) and actor John Carradine. He is one of a number of prolific actors in the Carradine family. He is the brother of Christopher and Keith Carradine, paternal half-brother of Bruce and David Carradine, and maternal half-brother of Michael Bowen. His maternal great-grandfather was biochemist Max Henius, and his maternal great-grandmother was the sister of historian Johan Ludvig Heiberg.
Carradine's parents divorced when he was 2 years old. A bitter custody battle led to his father gaining custody of him and his brothers, Christopher and Keith. During the custody battle, the children had spent three months in a home for abused children as wards of the court. His brother, Keith, said of the experience, It was like being in jail. There were bars on the windows, and we were only allowed to see our parents through glass doors. It was very sad. We would stand there on either side of the glass door crying.
Carradine was raised primarily by his stepmother, his father's third wife, Doris Grimshaw, and believed her to be his mother until he was introduced to Sonia Sorel at a Christmas party when he was 14 years old. While still in high school, Robert lived with his half-brother, David, in Laurel Canyon, California. Under David's care he indulged in two of his major interests: race car driving and music. He and David belonged to a musical quartet that performed in small clubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Carradine made his film debut in 1972 in The Cowboys with John Wayne. He was also featured in a short-lived television series, of the same name, based on the movie. He made an appearance as a killer in the Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets shooting to death the character played by his brother, David.
During this time he worked with David on some independent projects including a biker film called You and Me (1975) and an unreleased musical called A Country Mile. He also did camera work for David's cult classic Vietnam War inspired Americana which was not released until 1983.
In 1976, Carradine had the opportunity to demonstrate on screen what he considered to be his first ambition, car racing, when he played Jim Cantrell in Paul Bartel's Cannonball. In the film Robert's character ironically wins the cross country road race, beating the favorite, Coy Cannonball Buckman, played by his brother, David. In 1977, Robert became a snack for the vengeful killer whale in the Jaws imitation film Orca.
In 1978, Robert landed a demanding role in Hal Ashby's Oscar winning Vietnam War drama, Coming Home, which starred Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. His performance caused some speculation that he might be the best actor in his family.
Robert was instrumental in securing his brothers David and Keith to perform with him in one of the most unusual casting arrangements in movie history. Together the Carradines played the Younger brothers in The Long Riders (1980) along with three other sets of acting brothers: Stacy and James Keach, Dennis and Randy Quaid, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest.
Also in 1980, Carradine co-starred with Mark Hamill and Lee Marvin in Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One recounting Fuller's WW II experience. His character, who was based on Fuller himself, narrated the film.
In 1983, he and Cherie Curie starred in the science fiction movie Wavelength in which he played a washed up rock star who helps extraterrestrials escape from a military base. For the film he performed his own compositions including one named after his daughter, Ever. Also in 1983, he starred in the music video for The Motels hit song 'suddenly Last Summer as lead singer Martha Davis love interest
Carradine's biggest film success to date came in 1984 when he starred in Revenge of the Nerds as the lead nerd Lewis Skolnick. To prepare for the comedy, Carradine spent time at The University of Arizona, where the movie was filmed, participating in rush week. No fraternity picked him, convincing Carradine that he was indeed right for the part of the nerd that nobody wanted to claim as their own. Carradine reprised the role of Skolnick in three sequels, taking over as executive producer in the latter two.
Carradine's first television appearance was in 1971, on the classic western series, Bonanza. He also appeared on his brother David's series, Kung Fu, as Sunny Jim, the mute companion of Serenity Johnson, played by his father, John, in an episode called Dark Angel (1972). In 1979, he was alongside Melissa Sue Anderson in Survival of Dana. In 1984, Carradine played Robert Cohn in the television mini-series version of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. He appeared in the 1987 HBO mini-series, Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8. He was also a guest star in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent entitled Gone (2005, Season 4, Episode 11).
One of Carradine's best known roles is that of Sam McGuire, the aloof father on the Disney Channel's hit TV series Lizzie McGuire. The show, which starred Hilary Duff as Lizzie, was widely popular among tween-aged girls: girls between the ages of 8-14. The show's realistic approach to the problems of a 13-year-old girl also appealed to parents. It attracted such guest stars as David Carradine and Aerosmith lead singer, Steven Tyler.
In January 2013, he and former Revenge of the Nerds co-star, Curtis Armstrong, will host King of the Nerds, a reality TV series in which a group of nerds compete to find out which one is the nerdiest.