When Furious 7 hits theaters this weekend, you’ll get one last chance to see the late Paul Walker in the role that brought him international fame: Brian O'Conner, one of the leaders of a globetrotting, street-racing rescue team.
Walker, who died at the age of 40 in a car crash in Valencia, California, in late 2013, was a fine action-movie star. But something about his legacy (whatever that may be) that shouldn’t be forgotten is the fact that he led a globetrotting rescue team in real life, too.
“He was a real fucking dude with a big-ass heart,” Fast & Furious franchise co-star Michelle Rodriguez told The Daily Beast. “Like, fuck talking about doing shit for people, I’m going to go out there and start a charity. Hands first. I love that boy so much. We weren’t thinking about anything else, man.”
Walker formed his small nonprofit Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW) in 2010 to provide rescue and recovery aid in the wake of natural disasters. It was a cause that Walker was committed to up until the very end. (He was in Valencia that day so he could attend a charity event for Reach Out Worldwide.)
ROWW was founded to supplement humanitarian-aid efforts with its own crew of doctors, paramedics, and search-and-rescue personnel. Before Walker’s death, ROWW had gone on missions to Indonesia, Chile, the Philippines, Alabama, and Haiti. “I'd made a few runs into Port-au-Prince and was negotiating with the army to give me baby formula, tents, extension cords,” Walker told the Daily Telegraph in 2011. “I was hustling for everything.”
Walker explained to the Telegraph that he started participating in disaster-relief shortly after a friend essentially told him to nut up or shut up.
“Because of my travels with work and pleasure, a lot of the times disasters would strike in areas that I’d been,” Walker said. “You think of the faces—they might not be people you're in contact with but you can't help but wonder how that family was you had dinner with. That stuff starts crossing your mind and you feel so helpless. I would be consumed with anger, like, ‘Fuck! I wanna be there, I wanna do whatever I can.’ One of my best friends had heard it too many times and ultimately he just held me accountable. He punked me out: ‘So you gonna pack your bags and go to Haiti and help out or what?’”
The two then pulled together a group of EMTs and volunteers, loaded up supplies, and flew to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
“When the shit hits the fan, that's when you actually see the best in people,” Walker said.
Here’s video of Walker, Furious 7 co-stars, and director James Wan encouraging fans to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan:
So, in the year since Walker died, how has his humanitarian-aid rescue squad been faring?
“We've worked really hard over the past year to get to a place where we can be stable, efficient and effective while continuing to maintain Paul's positive image and generous goals in a way he would be proud of,” Cody Walker (Paul’s brother), CEO of Reach Out Worldwide and one of his stand-ins for Furious 7, told The Daily Beast. He said that the organization has received an “enormous outpouring of support” since his brother’s passing.
Cody says the group is still operating in Vanuatu, which was hit by a cyclone last month. Their team has been providing medical care and water filtration for villagers.
Universal donated “a very generous” amount, according to Cody, of the proceeds from the Fast & Furious 6 DVD sales to ROWW, though Cody would not say exactly how much. He says that they maintain a positive relationship with the studio, and that most of the Walker family would be attending the Furious 7 premiere in Hollywood.
ROWW is currently planning another fundraiser scheduled for April 25 in Venice Beach. How much it will expand and grow is anybody’s guess. But the late Walker’s friends and family are keeping optimistic.
“I’m not going to lie, it hasn't been the smoothest ride,” Cody told E! News. “But what…would you expect after losing your founder, leader, funder... brother?”