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Paul Leonard Kersey is the protagonist of the Death Wish film series. He was played by the late Charles Bronson in five of the films. In the 2018 remake, he is played by actor Bruce Willis, who played John McClane in the Die Hard film series. He became a vigilante after his wife and daughter where attacked by hoodlums, and would follow on in this path for a big part of his life.
Biography (original timeline)
Death Wish (1974)
Paul Kersey was a successful architect in New York City and was married with a grown up daughter. Shortly after returning from a holiday in Hawaii, Paul's wife and daughter where followed by hoodlums after working at a store and where attacked at their apartment. His wife was badly beaten and his daughter violently raped. Paul arrived at the hospital with the shocking news his wife was killed, and daughter severely traumatized.
After returning from a business trip Paul discovers his daughter isn't getting better and begins to question the way police handle crime. One night Paul hits a mugger with a sock full of quarters, which causes the guy to run off with nothing. When Paul opens a present he receives a gun, and goes out one night by himself. He is cornered by a mugger who demands money by a pier, and Paul answers him by shooting the attempted mugger dead. He later kills a gang of muggers in an alleyway beating up a man, and this causes the police to start connecting the vigilante crimes. Paul's influence causes the average innocent people to start defending themselves and commit their own vigilante acts and the crime rate in muggings especially begins to drop.
One night Paul is cornered by muggers and manages to shoot some of him but ends up taking a bullet himself. Paul pursues the last mugger, but collapse from his wound. Lt. Frank Ochoa who was working on the vigilante case gives Paul an ultimatum that he should leave New York and the case will be dropped. Paul takes up the offer and transfers to Chicago.
Death Wish II (1982)
Years later Paul moves to Los Angeles and is engaged. His daughter makes a recovery and is able to speak and navigate properly. However a gang who mugged Kersey break into his house, rape his maid and kidnap his daughter. She later ends up dead when she jumps from a window trying to escape them. During the course of Death Wish 2 Paul begins tracking down the thugs, killing them off. This is somewhat a change in his character, as his sole mission is tracking down these group of thugs rather than dealing with any other crimes not related to him. However by the end of the film its hinted he returns to his old ways as gunshots can be heard when stalking the streets. By the end of this film Paul's fiancee leaves him, deducing he was responsible for the crimes.
Death Wish III (1985)
In Death Wish 3 Paul arrives back in New York to visit a friend from his army days, who is killed by a group of thugs belonging to a gang who has been terrorizing the neighborhoods. Paul is arrested by police under false pretenses he killed his friend, but Paul is released by Lt. Richard Shriker who tasks Paul with cleaning up the gangs, but to report to him afterwards so the police can issue a story. By the climax Paul kills off the gang's leader Manny Fraker, and is allowed to walk away by Shriker before police arrive to deal with mass rioting in the streets between gangs and the neighborhood.
Death Wish IV (1987)
In Death Wish IV: The Crackdown Paul is back in Los Angeles. His girlfriend's daughter overdoses on drugs, and a man named Nathan tasks Paul with destroying two major gangs dealing in drugs. Paul completes the task, but its revealed Nathan is in fact a drug dealer himself looking to get rid of the competition. At the end Paul's new girlfriend is killed by Nathan, and Paul retaliates by killing him.
Death Wish V (1994)
In the final Death Wish film, Paul returned to New York under witness protection.
Death Wish (2018)
In the remake, Paul Kersey is a surgeon who resides in Chicago with his wife and daughter, and also has a brother with money problems. During a home invasion Paul's wife is killed and his daughter ends up in a coma following being shot. He turns to vigilantism, and is dubbed by the media as the "Grim Reaper", with his vigilante actions causing a debate from both sides: with some supporting the Reaper standing up against the criminals he slays, whilst others see him as simply bringing the law into his own hands. Paul begins picking off those that were involved in the robbery, and comes into conflict with the mastermind of the scheme: a man named Knox.
After Paul's daughter wakes up from her coma, Paul brings her home but arms himself with legitimately bought weapons as he foresees Knox launching another attack. Knox does indeed arrive at the house with two thugs in tow, but Paul manages to dispatch them successfully and the police arrive. Detective Raines - the cop responsible for looking into the death of Paul's wife as well as the Grim Reaper vigilante killings case, suspects that Paul is the reaper, but chooses to cover for him and states that Knox arrived at the house to finish off Paul's daughter, as he was likely trying to kill the last remaining witness.
Paul drops his daughter off at university. When he spots a criminal stealing luggage, he points at the thief with the finger gun.
- Paul is based off the character Paul Benjamin from the Death Wish book. In the book, he was an accountant rather than an architect. In the remake, his profession is again changed, this time to a surgeon.
- Although not made, there was plans for a Death Wish 6 however it wasn't to have Charles Bronson back as Paul Kersey.
- The television show The Simpsons made reference to Bronson's Death Wish character in the episode "A Star is Burns". Here the character of Jay Sherman was going to review Death Wish IX, which featured Kersey laying in a hospital bed wishing he was dead.