On February 25, 2017, Bill Paxton passed away at the age of 61. Yesterday it was announced that the cause of his death resulted from a stroke he suffered following heart surgery on Valentine’s Day. We here at GEEK were pretty big fans of Mr. Paxton, and as something of a tribute to him, we thought we’d take a look at some of the roles that really helped to shape his storied career, and the things we’ll best remember him for.
Bill Paxton has a popular distinction among horror and sci-fi fans; he is one of only 2 actors to ever be killed by a Predator, a Terminator, and a Xenomorph (Lance Henriksen being the other). That’s a pretty cool bit of trivia. And while his blue mohawk in 1984’s The Terminator is a memorable look, and he died an honorable death in Predator 2, the real standout from those three roles is that of Private Hudson in Aliens. Providing much of the levity in the mostly bleak film classic, Hudson’s “Game over man, game over!” is easily the most quotable line from the movie, and when the ends comes, he goes down fighting. This is probably the most iconic of Paxton’s films (argumentative!), and it’s certainly the one I’ve seen the most times… – Brian Kronner
Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 was a cinematic tour de force. It somehow managed to be technically impressive, well acted, critically lauded, and financially successfully. Apollo 13 made every kid who didn’t already want to be an astronaut want to be one, and every adult wish they were. But, in the center of an all-star cast was Bill Paxton doing what he did best; giving a subtle yet powerful performance. Paxton proved he could go toe to toe with Hanks and Harris, and looking back the film makes you think that he never became as big as a star as he should have been. But, maybe that was the magic that was Bill Paxton. He was an actor who gave it his all, and who somehow managed to look like a star even when playing the supporting role. To this day, Apollo 13 remains both one of the defining films of the 1990s, and of Paxton’s career. – Jason Lamb
We know, this one is a show, not a movie.
Paxton’s role on Big Love has to be one of his best. Not only is he a sympathetic and charismatic good guy father figure, but as the down to earth family man Bill Henrickson, he was also making television history. The HBO drama approached polygamy with an honesty and purity that had you rooting for the family to make it all work out in spite of the taboo nature of their lifestyle. Paxton’s portrayal of a hard-working husband and dad put a human face to the oft-shunned and misunderstood culture, and for polygamist Americans it was the first real, positive representation in modern media. The Darger family- who inspired the show – has these kind words to say of Paxton’s passing,
“We as real plural families still fight the bigotry that comes with the challenges that the show took on. Paxton made the role believable and set an example of patriarchy that both challenged society and inspired it with new possibilities. He is a talented actor and we are sure a dedicated husband and father in real life that will be missed. We are grateful for what he brought to the conversation of family and wish his family well.” – Tabitha Davis
I grew up as a fan of Bill Paxton and was lucky enough to produce his directorial debut. The film was Frailty, about which Roger Ebert said of Bill’s efforts: “Perhaps only a first-time director, an actor who does not depend on directing for his next job, would have had the nerve to make this movie. It is uncompromising.” And it almost didn’t happen. My producing partner and I thought Bill could be perfect for the part of “Dad” in Frailty and were also meeting with interested directors. We were thrilled when we heard Bill liked the script and wanted to set up a lunch to discuss starring in it. Not long after we sat down, he commented what a challenging story it was and how his wife was worried if he starred in it, he could be painted with the same brush Anthony Perkins was after Psycho. It would take a very special director who really understood the story, and the nuance of it. We agreed. It would take someone with confidence to not do too much to upset the ambiguity. We agreed. It would take someone who could embrace the Americana of the story and maybe a Texan who could understand that part of the country. Maybe it would we said. In fact, no one could be more right to direct it than him, he added. Awkward smiles. But then he proceeded to pull out a portfolio with visual references from artist Edward Hopper to the Charles Laughton film, Night of the Hunter and our awkward smiles turned to genuine ones and we never looked back. Lucky for us. Bill’s debut was bold, a critical darling lauded by the National Board of Review, and I’m proud to say very well-respected among film and horror fans.
Bill was talented, and kind to me and my family, and he was tough and uncompromising as a director. He was an artist who loved and appreciated the arts. And he had the remarkable ability to remember by name nearly everyone he’d ever met— including fans, press, and much to her delight, my sister. I remain a fan of the man who was very generous to a young producer who was still fan enough to ask him to sign her Weird Science laser disc while on a location scout. – Corey Sienega
Kathryn Bigelow brought a darker side of Paxton to the theater, as the psychotic vampire Severen was a new level of viciousness that we had yet to see. Near Dark was a revisionist blend of the western and vampire genre films, and followed Severen and his nomadic family of vampires as they terrorized a small midwestern town, while a classic tortured love story played out between vampire Mae and cowboy Caleb. Paxton was joined by his fellow Aliens cast members Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein, with James Cameron even making a brief cameo. Paxton’s mangled and blood covered visage became the iconic image of this cult favorite film, and Severen easily plays as one of Paxton’s darkest, yet also incredibly likeable characters. It’s a testament to Paxton’s talent to make such an evil and manic character also insanely cool, and we never quite looked at him the same way after this role. – Scoot Allan
In 1993’s Tombstone, Paxton played Morgan Earp, the youngest of the Earp brothers. While not the main hero of the story, his eventual death is the catalyst that sparks big brother Wyatt (Kurt Russell) to reign Hell down on the outlaw gang – the Cowboys. Morgan acts as the heart of the family and is a pretty stark contrast from many of the characters Paxton was famous for playing up to this point. His presence here really adds to one of the better ensemble casts of the 1990s. “Look at all the stars. You look up and you think, “God made all this and He remembered to make a little speck like me.” It’s kind of flattering, really.” He was just a big softie! – Brian Kronner
While Paxton’s role as Simon – a seedy used car salesman masquerading as a secret agent – was small in comparison to some of the other talent of this classic 90s action flick, it is certainly memorable. Simon serves as the impetus for the reinvigoration of Harry and Helen Tasker’s troubled marriage, bringing the two closer together with his lies while the true Simon is left in his pathetic life and his piss-stained silk boxers. Paxton takes his normally charming self and adds on the sleaze to make the character stand out, which is no easy task when acting next to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course, this wasn’t his first time these two worked together, as Paxton famously faced off against Arnie in The Terminator. With Simon, to know him is to hate him, yet we found ourselves loving this sad sack more and more with each scene just due to Paxton’s sheer enjoyability on the big screen. Best Worst Used Car Salesman Ever. – Scoot Allan
Jan de Bont’s mid-nineties special effects extravaganza did more than just unleash a natural disaster blockbuster across the screen; Twister single-handedly created a generation of kids who thought they might grow up to be storm-chasers. Yours truly saw the movie four times in theaters; spending the next three years borrowing every book on weather I could from my local library. Obsessively learning as many facts and stories of destruction these sidewinders were capable of. At the center of all this frenzied passion was Paxton, playing a legend reluctantly returning for one last adventure. His down to earth nature was always matched by a certain twinkle in the eye, simultaneously letting the audience in on the absurdity yet never treating the material with anything but respect and passion. Though some of the computer generated twisters have aged, the pacing and wide-eyed wonder in these forces of nature still permeate the film and Paxton was the totem that helped make Twister a lasting blockbuster to this day. – Mitchell Corner
John Hughes’ 1985 comedy – based on the EC Comics title from the 50s – featured a stellar ’80s cast that included Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey Jr., and Kelly Le Brock. It also featured Mr. Paxton as the asshole older brother of Wyatt, Chet Donnelly. Chet belched his way into our hearts as he very relatably tormented his younger brother and his best friend, unaware of his eventual comeuppance at the hands of the overpowered Lisa. With his karmic devolution into a walking pile of shit at the climax of the film, Paxton’s evil big brother Chet softens (literally) and apologizes to Wyatt, wrapping up the film nicely. It again goes to show how easily Paxton could portray either the best or the worst of his characters while making the smallest parts standout to his fans. – Scoot Allan
Images: Flickr, HBO, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, LionsGate,
Buena Vista Pictures, DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, Warner Bros.