One of Hollywood’s most reliable and recognizable actors, Bill Paxton, has sadly passed away at the age of only 61. Bill died Saturday after suffering a stroke due to complications from heart surgery. The Texas-born actor was beloved by all who worked with him and by countless fans alike. The only man to take on the Terminator, Alien(s) and the Predator, that alone makes him genre royalty. But even those roles only scratch the surface of a career that spanned many genres, from action to drama to western to horror. Indeed, Paxton’s charm and versatility enabled him to fit right at home whether giving a comedic performance or a more serious one. It’s why he’s been in some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, and had some of the most memorable roles in movie history, along with some standout characters on the small screen as well. As the Gore 4 takes a look at Bill Paxton’s incredible career, one can only be amazed at the quantity and quality of his work.
Paxton got started in the movie business working for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures as a set dresser before making his film debut in 1975 in Crazy Mama, directed by Jonathan Demme. Paxton later got involved in the music biz and directed the video for the novelty song, “Fish Heads”, which was co-written and performed by Lost in Space’s Bill Mumy. In 1981, he landed a small role as a soldier in the classic Bill Murray comedy, Stripes. He appeared as Clyde the Bartender in the music video inspired Walter Hill feature, Streets of Fire in 1983, before taking on Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spike-haired street punk in James Cameron’s sci-fi actioner, The Terminator in ’84. This would mark the beginning of a long, successful collaboration with the revolutionary filmmaker.
“Check it out, I am the ultimate bad ass.”
In 1985, Bill played bullying older brother, Chet, to one of a pair of nerds who conjure up a luscious Kelly LeBrock, as the perfect woman, in John Hughes’ Weird Science. Here, Bill gets zapped into a giant turd that needs to be seen to be believed. It was the following year, in 1986, that Paxton had one of his most defining and memorable roles as an actor, that of Private Hudson in James Cameron’s sequel to the Ridley Scott classic, Aliens. In a movie packed with suspense, carnage and terror, Paxton’s space marine gave the film some much needed levity. Cameron gave his friend a lot of the best lines, including the oft-quoted, “Game over, man, it’s game over!” (which the Gore 4 even uses as one of it’s category headers). It’s one of those perfect films, a blend of sci-fi, action and horror, from first frame to last (and if you haven’t noticed, stay to the very end of the credits for an audio surprise which sets up the next film), and Paxton’s Hudson character is an indelible part of it. Combining goofy charisma, bravado and fear, it’s a big reason why the movie remains so revered to this day. Who can forget a petrified Hudson, reacting to Bishop playing the knife trick on him, or after being told that cute, little Newt managed to survive the Aliens’ attacks, uttering the line, “why don’t you put her in charge?” It truly is one of the most entertaining and memorable screen characters in film, winning Paxton a Saturn Award as best supporting actor, and it helped put him on the map.
Awww, it’s just a scratch.
Paxton would continue in the horror genre with the following year’s Near Dark (1987) as the baddest of a family of wandering vampires in the cherished Katheryn Bigelow film. The striking image of his sun-ravaged character even made for the film’s movie poster. The nineties were a huge decade for Bill, as successful as an any actor could ever dream of. It began with the 1990 horror film, Brain Dead, with fellow Bill, Pullman, and George Kennedy (and not to be confused with Peter Jackson’s ’92 zombie gorefest, aka Dead Alive), followed by another sequel to a sci-fi horror classic, Predator 2, wherein he also provided a bit of comic relief as a detective hunting down the alien hunter. More roles in some interesting films followed – The Dark Backward (1991), One False Move (1992) and Boxing Helena (1993). Also in 1993, Paxton tried his hand at the Western genre, portraying one of the Earp brothers of Kurt Russell’s Wyatt in the superb, Tombstone. In 1994, Paxton worked with Cameron and Schwarzenegger again, this time as a sleazy used car salesman in the action-packed True Lies. More blockbusters lied ahead for Bill, the next being Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1994), where he played American astronaut Fred Haise alongside Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon in the true life depiction of a space mission gone terribly wrong. After many roles either of a supporting nature or one of an ensemble, Bill’s undeniable screen success led him to next take the lead in another mega-box office hit.
Forecast calls for wind with a chance of cows.
Twister (1996), had a script co-written by Michael Crichton and directed by Jan De Bont, fresh off the success of his Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock starrer, Speed. Here, Paxton is joined by Helen Hunt, as an estranged husband and wife team of storm chasers. In a film noted for its state-of-the-art special effects, Paxton’s and Hunt’s chemistry managed to shine through as the film would go on to become one of the biggest films of the year, second only to Independence Day, and grossing over $240 million in the U.S. alone, and almost half a billion dollars worldwide. Those numbers, however, would pale in comparison to one of Paxton’s next films.
In 1997, Bill Paxton would once again join forces with his good friend, James Cameron, in what would become at the time, the largest grossing movie of all time, the behemoth known as Titanic. It won 11 Oscars, tied with Ben-Hur for the most ever, and grossed over $2 billion worldwide. While everyone remembers Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the roles that made them mega-stars, it was Paxton’s portrayal of a treasure hunter in the present day which set the story in motion. Four years later, Paxton rejoined Cameron on an excursion to the actual Titanic wreckage, and served as narrator in the documentary of the event, Ghosts of the Abyss, released in 2003.
Come to Papa.
The following years saw Bill continue in a number of cool films – Sam Raimi’s nourish A Simple Plan (1998), the family friendly re-make, Mighty Joe Young (1998), with Charlize Theron, the death-defying thriller, Vertical Limit (2000) and the WWII submarine suspenser, U-571 (2000). In 2001, Paxton made his directorial debut with the unsettling, yet widely regarded psychological thriller, Frailty. Co-starring with Matthew McConaughey, Paxton played a fanatically religious father of two boys who believes God has chosen him to slay demons. It was a powerful performance by Paxton and a confidently directed film that sticks with the audience long after viewing. After delving so deeply into such a disturbing film, Bill apparently wanted to lighten things up some, appearing as Dinky Winks in two of Robert Rodriguez’ Spy Kids films, and then as Coconut Pete in the slasher by comedy troupe, Broken Lizard, Club Dread (2004).
While Paxton primarily concentrated on big screen work for the length of his career, he had appeared in episodes of several well-known series earlier on, like Miami Vice, The Hitchhiker and Tales From the Crypt. After HBO’s enormous success with the New Jersey-based mob drama, The Sopranos, television was able to attract more big name stars to the small screen with original premises in prestigious projects. In 2006, Paxton starred in the HBO series, Big Love, playing a polygamist with three wives living in Utah (where else?). The critically-acclaimed drama would run for five seasons and nab Bill three Golden Globe nominations. In 2012, Paxton would co-star with Kevin Costner in the History Channel’s mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys. This first foray into scripted drama airing for the network was a ratings success, and would garner 16 Emmy nominations as well, including one for Paxton as the leader of the infamous McCoy clan. In 2014, Bill had a key recurring role in the first season of ABC’s series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, as John Garrett, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned Hydra member whose storyline ends in the season final at the hands of Agent Coulson and his favorite new weapon in what has to be one of the most unforgettable and explosive demises in the history of television.
In the spring of 2014, Paxton participated with James Cameron and much of the cast of Aliens in their first major reunion in decades at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo (seen above). Here, Paxton revealed he was about to sign onto Police Academy 2 before getting the call from Cameron to take part in the iconic film. In 2016, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Aliens, the main cast came together once again, along with Cameron and producer Gale Ann Hurd, at San Diego Comic Con. In an interview with NBC’s The Today Show in conjunction with the event, when asked how best to sum up the film three decades later, Bill replied, “the gift that keeps on giving.” That response can most definitely be said about Paxton himself, and his extraordinary body of work, both on the big screen and on television. That includes his most recent project, his leading role as absolutely-not-by-the-book Detective Frank Roarke, in the television version of Training Day, currently airing on CBS. The film which it’s based on won Denzel Washington his second Oscar, but Paxton makes the role all his own. It’s more than sad to think that this will be the last time we’ll get to see him in anything new. Paxton had already filmed the show’s entire 13 episode season, and the producers have stated the role will not be recast if a second were to happen. You can catch up with the show On Demand and enjoy another one of Bill Paxton’s memorable performances. And hopefully, after reading this retrospective of his remarkable career, you’ll want to revisit some more of his impressive body of work, including more recent well-received films, like 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow and Nightcrawler.
Bill is survived by his wife, Louise, and their two children, James and Lydia. By all accounts, Bill was one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet in Hollywood. Arnold Schwarzenegger shot a video message, calling Bill one of his best friends, and also tweeted, saying, “he was a great human being with a huge heart.” Longtime collaborator and friend, James Cameron, in an e-mail to Vanity Fair, called Paxton “a good man, a great actor and a creative dynamo,” and hoped we’d not just remember “all the hours of joy he brought to us with his vivid screen presence, but for the great human that he was. The world is a lesser place for his passing, and I will profoundly miss him.” We all will.
— remembrance by Brian de Castro