Paul Walker
Credit: Mauricio Santana/LatinContent/Getty Images

Actor Paul Walker, best known for his role in the Fast and Furious franchise, died on Saturday afternoon after a car accident in Valencia, CA. He was 40 years old.

“It is with a truly heavy heart that we must confirm that Paul Walker passed away today in a tragic car accident while attending a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide. He was a passenger in a friend’s car, in which both lost their lives. We appreciate your patience as we too are stunned and saddened beyond belief by this news. Thank you for keeping his family and friends in your prayers during this very difficult time. We will do our best to keep you apprised on where to send condolences,” a post on his official Facebook page said.

“Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the Fast and Furious films, and to countless fans. We send our deepest and most sincere condolences to Paul’s family,” a rep for Universal said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Santa Clarita Valley Station confirmed to EW that deputies responded to a traffic collision in Valencia on Saturday afternoon and discovered a vehicle in open flames. The accident appeared to be a single-car collision against a fixed object near the road. The fire department extinguished the flames and located two bodies trapped inside the vehicle, both of whom were later pronounced dead.

TMZ first reported the news.

Walker looked just about perfect, and in his too-brief career he became a new kind of character actor: The perfect man who wasn’t quite perfect enough. In Varsity Blues, he’s the perfect quarterback who gets injured. In The Skulls, he’s the perfect WASP who refuses to be as perfectly evil as his father. In She’s All That, he’s the perfect high school popular guy — and the villain of the movie, the exactly right vision of popularity that Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook are rebelling against. It feels just right that his first major role was in Pleasantville, where he played a perfect hunk with the perfect name Skip Martin.

Walker always played guys like that. Guys with names like Skip and Lance and Dean and Caleb. And Brian. That was the role that defined him. As Brian O’Conner, he was the star of The Fast and the Furious, the film where he played the perfect vision of the White Dude attempting to infiltrate a new multicultural world. Across six Fast & Furious films — and a seventh one, coming next summer — Walker turned O’Conner into a fascinating, perfectly modern icon. As the Fast franchise evolved in its fascinating trajectory, O’Conner became a smaller but still utterly pivotal role. Because Walker graciously stepped aside to give the limelight to other stars: To Tyrese Gibson in 2 Fast 2 Furious, to Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five, to the whole car-chasing superteam crew in this past summer’s megahit Furious Six. Part of the sheer wonder of watching the films is seeing how Walker’s Brian evolves: From a callow young undercover agent to a family man, from a teen-movie protagonist with beautiful hair to a genuine hero with something to lose.

It is a tragedy of pure reality that Walker died in a car accident, since so many of his best moments on screen showed the actor defying the laws of automotive physics. And it is a tragedy that we rarely got to see Walker explore his darker side. There were glimmers of that in Into the Blue, the underrated pulp gem where he played the perfectly handsome beach bum with a sudden ludicrous chance at wealth; or in the hyperkinetic Running Scared, where Walker was a low-level mafia dude so graceful his name is Gazelle. When Walker died, he was 40. He looked much younger. He was so handsome. Just about perfect, you might say.

— Reporting by Marc Snetiker