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Paul Walker’s Death Presents PR Challenges for Universal Studios

Actor Paul Walker‘s death last Saturday was not in any way ironic; it was a terrible tragedy. The manner in which he died is ultimately less important than the fact that he died in the prime of his life and left a teenage daughter behind.

We mention his passing in order to explore the challenges it presents for Universal Studios, producer of the Fast and Furious franchise that made him famous. This New York Times piece discusses the business of completing the upcoming sequel without Walker, but avoids touching on the PR concerns that will almost certainly arise around the film’s planned release this summer.

The point is that the series, which has been criticized for glamorizing dangerous driving, will now face increased scrutiny. In the past, the studio addressed the public’s concerns by adding safe driving PSAs to the DVD releases; here is one such clip recorded by Walker himself.

This video is especially haunting because it echoes a similar PSA recorded by James Dean before he died in a car accident nearly 60 years ago.

While the movie will undoubtedly be successful, we are very interested to see which steps Universal plans to take to address the controversy while also honoring Walker’s life and his passion for charity. Will the studio produce more PSAs? Will it partner with related organizations to raise awareness about driving safety?

For the moment, the primary concern is to respect the late actor’s family’s desire for privacy.

Vin Diesel visited a memorial last night and praised his co-star as “a brother…on and off screen”; the Walker family encourages fans to keep his memory alive by donating to Reach Out Worldwide, the charity he founded to aid international disaster relief efforts.

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