by Jason Koenigsberg
Now this is devastating news indeed. Bill Paxton, one of the best character actors throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s has passed away due to complications from surgery at the age of 61. I am certain this sudden shocker will not make its way into tonight’s in memoriam tribute at the Academy Awards but I certainly hope someone mentions him tonight and Paxton receives a big applause.
The biggest roles of his filmography play out like a greatest hits of the 80’s and 90’s action/sci-fi blockbuster movies. The first real impression he made on the American consciousness was as the punk leader of a trio that are the first to encounter Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg killing machine in James Cameron’s original Terminator from 1984. He would go on to appear in several other James Cameron films, most notably as Hudson the nervous and fast talking marine from Aliens (1986). He would reunite with Cameron for the third time in True Lies (1994) opposite Schwarzenegger again. This time Paxton was Simon, the sleazy car salesman posing as a secret agent to seduce Jamie Lee Curtis. Both his work in Aliens and True Lies are arguably his two most iconic roles, however his fourth and final collaboration with James Cameron would undoubtably bring about the role most people probably associate with Bill Paxton in 1997’s Best Picture Titanic, which for over a decade was the highest grossing film of all time. Paxton played the deep sea explorer who was excavating the wreckage from the sunken ship trying to find a diamond. His scenes are the catalyst for why we are hearing the story from Old Rose (Gloria Stewart) and why we get to see her doomed romance as a younger woman (Kate Winslet) with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio).
In between all of the James Cameron directed blockbusters, he starred in a ton of box office smash hits from other directors. He made an impression in the western Tombstone (1993) alongside Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, starred as an astronaut opposite Tom Hanks in the critically acclaimed and award winning Apollo 13 (1995), and was the lead in Twister (1996) one of the biggest special effects extravaganzas of its era.
He would mostly be known for his supporting work but Bill Paxton showed throughout his career he could be a viable leading man as he displayed not only with the financial success of Twister, which was more due to the state of the art special effects on display. He was very subtle and nuanced as the leading man in Sam Rami’s A Simple Plan (1998) which was a modern take on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) about what money can do to people and how greed can bring out the worst in mankind. Paxton was great as the lead in the HBO movie A Bright Shining Lie (1998), about a career military man with serious personal problems. He also directed himself and starred opposite Matthew McConaughey in Frailty (2001), one of the best horror movies of the twenty-first century about a father raising his son to seek out and kill demons that look like everyday people.
Along with his big hits and his leading work, the bulk of Bill Paxton’s career was as a character actor. He and Arnold Schwarzenegger must have ran into each other a lot on the Fox Studio lot. Along with both appearing in Terminator and True Lies, Bill Paxton also starred in the 20th Century Fox vehicle to showcase Arnold’s physique and ability to kill bad guys with ease in Commando (1985). Plus, even though Paxton was not in in Predator (1987) with Schwarzenegger, he would appear as a cop in the sequel Predator 2 (1990) opposite Danny Glover.
Some other notable parts from the long and diverse career of Bill Paxton were as the scene stealing vampire Severen in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult horror film Near Dark (1987), a commander in the World War II submarine flick U-571 (2000), a Jimmy Buffet wannabe in Broken Lizard’s comedy Club Dread (2004) and more recently as a military sergeant in the future in Tom Cruise’s sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow and a reporter competing against Jake Gyllenhaal’s unscrupulous ways in the terrific thriller Nightcrawler, both released in 2014.
He played a lot of military figures throughout his career and was fortunate enough to star in some big action packed hits. As movies started to change in the twenty-first century, Bill Paxton took less film roles and found success as the lead on the HBO series Big Love (2006-2011). He also made appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2014) and was currently starring as a crooked cop on the television adaptation of Training Day (2017). Bill Paxton had a very fruitful career and made an indelible mark on all the of the movies and television shows he appeared in. The action and science fiction films he starred in were some of the most iconic of their era and also some of my personal favorites.