You’ve probably seen the quote before: “If one day speed kills me, don’t cry because I was smiling.” I know I have. It’s been attributed to the late Paul Walker—who was killed in a fiery Porsche Carrera GT crash in 2013—by many people and news outlets, including us. But in reality, there is no evidence that Walker ever said it.
Aside from giving speed demons the affirmation that their reckless driving is somehow acceptable and okay, the quote also acted as a badge of common ground that established the enthusiasts from the casuals. Posting it on your car or your Facebook—an act that Meant Something.
I get why this quote took off in the wake of Walker’s death: it was morbidly ironic and it gave the nice, fuzzy sentiment that he died doing what he loved doing. It gave members of the automotive community some closure and grounding after his death. And it reinforced the idea that death and loss are truly experienced only by the living.
But when Walker family attorneys contacted us, claiming that the quote we used in a story about a Manhattan speeder was misattributed to the fallen actor, I did some digging. To my surprise, there is no evidence at all that Walker ever said anything of the like. The Guardian says that it’s unattributed. Mashable says that the quote is “supposedly” from Walker, but doesn’t confirm it. Uproxx traced it back to a 2001 MTV interview, but nowhere in the interview does Walker say it, either. He talks about cars he likes and doing driver training for the movies, not dying.
What most likely happened was that the quote was hastily penned either before or after Walker’s death and definitely gained traction as a sort of eulogy after the crash.
But beyond that, it encapsulates the ineffable spookiness of someone dying young and potentially having predicted his own death beforehand. It made Walker into a modern-day James Dean. And when framed like that, it’s easy to capture the public’s imagination.
There’s just one thing: it doesn’t seem he ever said it.