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What the last 12 months of Paul Walker's life were like

The Fast & Furious movies have grown from their comparatively low-key roots to a mega-successful blockbuster franchise, complete with spin-offs like Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, possibly the first movie title in history to feature two ampersands. Unfortunately, the price for success has been steep, and the franchise has suffered more than its share of tragedies along the way. Easily the biggest one was the death of core cast member Paul Walker, who played Brian O'Conner, an undercover cop who befriended his target, Dominic Toretto (as played by Walker's real-life friend Vin Diesel), and joined his "family" of street racers.   

Walker's death was both extremely sad and cruelly ironic. On November 30, 2013, the 40-year-old actor was attending a charity event in Santa Clarita, Calif. He and a friend, who drove the car, decided to take a lovely Porche Carrera GT for a quick joyride, but the friend lost control, and the attendees of the event could only watch in terror when they heard a loud noise and saw smoke plume in the distance. 

The untimely death shocked Walker's fans and colleagues alike, but as his mother, Cheryl, told People, many didn't actually realize what the beloved actor did outside his movies. "I think so many people think, 'Oh, he was just a movie star who was killed in a car accident,'" Cheryl said. "But there was so much more to him. That was just a piece of who he was. He was an amazing man." Today, we'll get some insight into this amazing man's life, and see what the last 12 months of Paul Walker's life were like.

Paul Walker was a busy, busy man

Paul Walker was already a household name thanks to his involvement with the Fast & Furious franchise, but in the months before his tragic demise, his star was rising higher than ever. As Deadline tells us, Walker had agreed to star in the movie adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks bestseller The Best of Me. Deadline also reports that the actor was set to star as Agent 47, the titular assassin in the film version of Square Enix's famous video game, Hitman. The movie would have essentially rebooted the 2007 version starring Timothy Olyphant, and the producers were eyeing the project as a "potential gold mine," which could possibly have turned Hitman yet another long-running franchise for Walker.

Speaking of franchises, Walker was famously filming the seventh installment of his main one at the time of his death, which left his Furious 7 costars in utter shock and production in disarray. Director James Wan, writer Chris Morgan and Universal Pictures decided to retire the character of Brian O'Conner instead of killing him, which meant they had to arduously recreate Walker for his remaining scenes in order to close the character's arc and give him a proper sendoff.

Paul Walker struggled with his role in the movie industry

Paul Walker may have been as busy as an actor can be, but privately, he yearned for a simpler life. This wasn't a new thing, either. Per the Los Angeles Times, Walker had the occasional reservation about his place in the Fast & Furious franchise, to the point that Vin Diesel actually had to talk him into appearing in the fourth movie, 2009's Fast & Furious. 

In a 2013 interview with GQ, Walker revealed that he originally planned to retire at 40, and that part of the reason he stayed in the game was because his daughter, Meadow, thought it was awesome. "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," Walker 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?"

It's possible that Walker would eventually have taken his leave from the industry. After the actor's death, his father, Paul Sr., told the Daily Mail that the younger Paul had indeed decided to take a hiatus from Hollywood. "Paul was planning on taking a break from starring in movies, and stepping away from Hollywood, to spend more time with Meadow," the actor's father said. 

Paul Walker struggled with injury

The year 2013 saw Paul Walker film his final non-Furious movie, and the last film he completed in full. It was the Parkour action movie Brick Mansions, which saw Walker in the very familiar role of a police officer who needs to go undercover to catch a dangerous criminal. Unfortunately, the Parkour-heavy role posited a bit of a problem for Walker: as the Los Angeles Times tells us, the actor was still recovering from a painful knee injury.

Two months before shooting, Walker had struggled with a torn ligament in his knee, which required surgery to fix. The injury was still in the process of healing when shooting started, but Walker didn't want anything to be postponed on his account. So, he Parkoured his way through the production on a dodgy knee that caused him to limp whenever the cameras weren't rolling. Though Walker persevered and completed the movie, it may have strengthened his resolve to explore non-acting avenues in life. His longtime manager, Matt Luber, remembers one particular comment from Walker: "After a break, he was called to set, and I saw him limp over," Luber says. "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's hobbies were even cooler than his movies

Paul Walker might have been halfway out of the movie business, but that doesn't mean his life would have been any less awesome. In 2013, he told GQ about some of his hobbies, which were the exact type of stuff you'd expect from the man who portrayed noted action man Brian O'Connor in so many movies. He had a passion for martial arts, and was rapidly developing one for Parkour, courtesy of the training he undertook for Brick Mansions. He was an enthusiastic archer and range rifle shooter, as well as an avid surfer. Oh, and as Motor Trend tells us, he was as much of a car enthusiastic as his famous Fast & Furious character.

Still, arguably his biggest and most surprising passion was marine biology. In a 2011 interview with Beauty and the Dirt, he noted that he was actually majoring in marine biology in college before he ran out of funds and had to develop a lucrative side gig as an actor. "The idea was to go back, and good fortune struck," the actor said. "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." However, Walker remained fond of the ocean to the very end, and as Entertainment Weekly notes, he was particularly enthusiastic about marine conservation and sharks. He even became extremely tight with marine biologist Dr. Michael Domaier over the years, and took part in multiple expeditions with him. In fact, they started shooting their most recent Shark Week special, Spawn of Jaws: The Birth, just three weeks before Walker's death.

Paul Walker was a generous guy

After Paul Walker died, the world found about a new, hidden side to him. No, he didn't have a horde of skeletons in his closet. Quite the opposite, in fact: As MTV News tells us, the actor was a huge philanthropist and humanitarian. Instead of just donating the occasional buck to good causes, he actually founded his own nonprofit charity, Reach Out WorldWide. The organization got its start when Walker organized a relief team and traveled to Haiti to help the people impacted by the disastrous 2010 earthquake. The trip showed Walker the need for resources and skilled personnel in disaster relief, and as such, ROWW focuses on deploying volunteer teams of "first responders and other professionals" to disaster areas, where they help the local experts. Instead of flowers, Walker's family asked grieving fans to donate to the organization.

As ROWW spokesman JD Dorfman told Inquirer in the wake of Walker's death, the actor was very hands-on in the operation, a far cry from a rich-guy patron paying the bills from the safety of his mansion. "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," he 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." In fact, Walker kept his charitable attitude quite literally to the end. On the day he died, he was spending his day off to host a car-themed benefit for victims of the Typhoon Haiyan.  

All in all, spokesman Dorfman put it best: "Some people play a hero, Paul was a hero."