Bill Paxton, 1955 – 2017

Bill Paxton, the versatile actor who appeared in films including Aliens and Titanic and played a polygamist on HBO’s Big Love, has died from complications following heart surgery,” report Brent Lang and Pat Saperstein for Variety. “With a Texas twang and grizzled visage, Paxton often found himself playing military men and cowboys. He was closely associated with James Cameron, playing a punk leader in The Terminator, as well as an ill-fated technician in Aliens, a venal car dealer in True Lies, and a treasure hunter in Titanic. Paxton earned an Emmy nomination for the 2012 mini-series Hatfields & McCoys, and was starring as a morally ambiguous detective in the CBS series Training Day at the time of his death.”

At IndieWire, Michael Nordine is gathering the many, many tributes coming in from those who knew and worked with him, including Tom Hanks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Howard—and James Cameron: “I’ve been reeling from this for the past half hour, trying to wrap my mind and heart around it. Bill leaves such a void.”

The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “Paxton had excellent parts in big commercial successes of the 90s, like Tombstone and Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, and in Twister, he had the lead: the meteorologist and storm chaser Bill ‘The Extreme’ Harding…. But my favorite Bill Paxton performance was in Carl Franklin’s excellent 1992 thriller One False Move, co-written by its star Billy Bob Thornton. Paxton plays the good-ol’-boy police chief in Star City, Arkansas, Dale Dixon, who is madly overexcited at the prospect of real detective work when three very dangerous runaway criminals come into his district… This is not the classic laconic lawman who is the unruffled good guy, or even the amoral warrior, but something much more complicated and elusive. It was an excellent performance from Paxton.”

Sam Barsanti and Esther Zuckerman for the AV Club: “Paxton, who was born in Ft. Worth, Texas, got his start in the entertainment industry when he was a teenager working behind the scenes in the art department of films, he told the AV Club during a Random Roles interview. ‘I came out to Hollywood when I was just 18, and my dad, he was really into Hollywood and theater and art, and I guess growing up, he exposed me to a lot of cultures, and I just started making Super-8 films in high school and decided I wanted to be a filmmaker,’ he explained. ‘My heroes at the time were probably guys like Clint Eastwood, who was an actor, but also a filmmaker.'”

“As an eight-year-old, Paxton was in the crowd when John F. Kennedy emerged from his hotel on the morning of his assassination,” notes Benjamin Lee in the Guardian. “Photographs of him being lifted above the crowd are on display at a museum in Texas. He later narrated a documentary about the day for the National Geographic channel and produced the film Parkland, set during the president’s final day. ‘I was probably about 20 feet in front of him,’ he said in an interview. ‘His hair was red and he was in a blue suit and he couldn’t have been more charming.'”

“Paxton recently found a resurgence on the silver screen in supporting turns in Haywire, Nightcrawler, and Edge of Tomorrow,” writes Jordan Raup at the Film Stage. “He made a memorable impression in his many supporting roles, but it was his directorial debut Frailty that introduced his immense talent behind the camera. Before the so-called The McConaissance occurred, Paxton showed Matthew McConaughey’s range, as well as his own, in the unsettling psychological thriller. Paxton was the rare talent that could exude both charm and unpredictability—Near Dark also comes specifically to mind—and his warmth will be greatly missed on screen.”‘s Erik Davis gathers clips.

Updates: Joe Leydon pays his respects by posting his 2002 review of Frailty: “Evidencing the same uncomplicated, matter-of-fact naturalism that informs his best work on the other side of the camera, Paxton tells a complex and compelling story in a frills-free, straightforward style that only serves to intensify the movie’s steadily escalating suspense and clammy sense of impending doom. And he’s smart enough to cast a first-rate actor—himself—in a demanding role that calls for a delicate balance of homespun charisma and soft-spoken insanity.”

“HBO’s Big Love, a show that served as a transition from the great antihero shows of the early 2000s to more intimate slices of life, would have collapsed entirely without Paxton’s commitment and brilliance,” argues Time‘s Daniel D’Addario.

At, Peter Sobczynski notes that Paxton will soon be seen “playing Emma Watson’s father in The Circle, James Ponsoldt’s adaptation of Dave Eggers’s paranoid drama about the goings-on inside a mysterious and powerful tech company. Though his time may have been unexpectedly cut short, he still left a considerable body of work to look back on and made considerable contributions to a number of classic films along the way. And if you need something to smile about in the face of this news, I implore you to check out Club Dread—his rant where he decries Jimmy Buffet as ‘a son-of-a-son-of-bitch!’ should do the trick nicely. This was an actor who will truly be missed.”

Updates, 2/28: Writing for Time, James Cameron remembers his friend: “He directed two feature films, Frailty and The Greatest Game Ever Played, in both cases showing total mastery of the medium. Bill believed in meticulous preparation, both behind the camera and for his acting. He once showed me the margin notes in his script for True Lies, and I was stunned to see that the broadest, most improvisational-seeming gestures of his Simon character were minutely detailed, like an astronaut’s checklist.” posts remembrances from Brian Tallerico, Collin Souter, Craig Lindsey, Bob Calhoun, Sean Mulvihill, Erik Childress, and Matt Zoller Seitz, who writes: “For me, his career-best performance will always be A Simple Plan, where he plays a Hitchcockian small-town guy who finds a bunch of money with two friends, agrees to split it three ways, then has second thoughts. The film might constitute Paxton’s most sorrowful performance as well as his most frightening: he plays an outwardly ordinary man who has no idea what kind of evil he’s capable of and keeps sinking lower and lower until the bottom drops out. He realizes he can do anything he wants, so long as he convinces himself that he had no other choice.”

“The last time I saw Bill Paxton,” writes MTV’s Amy Nicholson, “his life looked pretty great. It was at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and his newest movie, Mean Dreams, had just premiered.” It opens on March 17. “Paxton stretched out next to the waves to talk about how a kid from Fort Worth had made it to France. He still had that Southern drawl, as warm as the sunshine. No matter where he was acting—or on what planet—he always sounded like a kid from the Texas panhandle. ‘It’s flat and you can see far,’ he said. ‘I think a lot of big dreams come from that kind of a landscape.'”

“As a teenager, Paxton became interested in filmmaking when he and his friends began shooting Super 8 shorts for which they built their own sets,” writes Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian. “He moved to Los Angeles and found work in various prop and art departments. He was hired by Cameron, who was then a production designer and second-unit director, on the no-budget horror Galaxy of Terror (1981). Together they created the interiors of spaceships out of everything from Winnebago parts to dishwasher racks.”

Deadline‘s Anita Busch recalls researching JFK with Paxton, sorting through “handwritten letters from Rose Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, pictures of Bobby Kennedy never seen before, a letter from Ted Kennedy about putting together a permanent memorial for Bobby, reams of correspondence from Joe Kennedy, the original scripts and handwritten deal memo for Ocean’s Eleven, Rat Pack photos never before seen, the original ransom note from Frank Jr.’s kidnappers (yes, the original), things from Air Force One and the White House. Stories about Jack Kennedy and Hyannisport. Just the behind-the-scenes history of Hollywood and of the Kennedy administration that an adoring public never knew…. Bill soon understood that he was learning the true history of Hollywood.”

Fresh Air‘s posted its 2002 interview with Paxton (15’19”).

Updates, 3/1: “When I learned Paxton had died,” writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice, “I immediately thought of the finale of One False Move, which finds Dale, stabbed and shot, lying on the ground, his face turned to the side, away from the camera. His little boy has wandered over to him, and though wounded, Dale is determined to keep the child distracted from the bloodier carnage nearby. So, he keeps talking. Franklin never shows us Dale’s face in this scene, but he doesn’t have to. As an actor (and movie star), Paxton’s greatest asset may have been his voice, which was full to bursting with a generosity of feeling that made him the rarest of screen presences—a fully realized human.”

“It’s shocking and sad that American film and television creators won’t be able to rely on Paxton’s rough-hewn decency, his game sense of humor, and his canny ability to steal a scene,” writes Maureen Ryan in Variety. “Paxton was dependably watchable in projects that weren’t as good as he was and great in roles that gave his characters the scope and depth to display their irreverent and essential humanity.”

Updates, 4/16: “Had he been around a few generations earlier, you can’t help but feel that Bill Paxton would have been a favorite of Howard Hawks or Sam Fuller,” suggests Trevor Johnston in Sight & Sound. “Here was an actor who was a bonus in any ensemble, enough of an authentic individual to make his presence felt among the others in a group, but always someone who accentuated the starring roles alongside him rather than vying for attention against them.”

In the Chicago Reader, Ben Sachs adds that “his modesty as a performer matched by his evident enthusiasm for whatever story he’s helping to tell. Even when he overacted, as in Near Dark or Club Dread, his overacting was never self-important or at odds with the material. It felt like exactly what the movie called for.”

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