BANGKOK - Much like the character that made him famous, David Carradine was always seeking, both spiritually and professionally, his life forever intertwined with the Shaolin priest he played in the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu."

Just as the character, Kwai Chang Caine, roamed the 19th-century American West, Carradine spent his latter years searching for the path to Hollywood stardom, accepting low-budget roles while pursuing interests in Asian herbs, exercise and philosophy, and making instructional videos on tai chi and other martial arts.

Carradine was found dead yesterday in Thailand. The 72-year-old actor appeared to have hanged himself in a suite at the luxury Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel, said Lt. Teerapop Luanseng, the officer responsible for investigating the death.

"I can confirm that we found his body, naked, hanging in the closet," Teerapop said. He said police were investigating and suspected suicide, though one of his managers questioned that theory.

"All we can say is, we know David would never have committed suicide," said Tiffany Smith, of Binder & Associates, his management company. "We're just waiting for them to finish the investigation and find out what really happened. He really appreciated everything life has to give . . . and that's not something David would ever do to himself."

Carradine was "in good spirits" when he left the United States for Thailand on May 29 to work on the action movie "Stretch," Smith said.

"David was excited to do it and excited to be a part of it," she said by phone from Beverly Hills.

He had several other projects lined up after the "Stretch," which was being directed by Charles De Meaux with Carradine in the lead.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, said the embassy had been informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early yesterday.

"I was deeply saddened by the news of David Carradine's passing," said director Martin Scorcese. "We met when we made 'Boxcar Bertha' together, almost 40 years ago. I have very fond memories of our time together on that picture and on 'Mean Streets,' where he agreed to do a brief cameo."

Carradine came from an acting family. His father, John, made a career playing creepy, eccentric characters in film and on stage. Half-brothers Keith, Robert and Bruce also became actors, and actress Martha Plimpton is Keith Carradine's daughter.

"My Uncle David was a brilliantly talented, fiercely intelligent and generous man. He was the nexus of our family in so many ways, and drew us together over the years and kept us connected," Plimpton said yesterday. *