Thursday 22 March 2018

Obituary: Bill Paxton

Illustrious actor, who starred in films including 'Aliens', 'Titanic' and 'Apollo 13'

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Bill Paxton (left) starred alongside Kevin Bacon as an astronaut in 1995 space adventure ‘Apollo 13’
OUT OF THIS WORLD: Bill Paxton (left) starred alongside Kevin Bacon as an astronaut in 1995 space adventure ‘Apollo 13’ newsdesk

Bill Paxton, who died last Saturday aged 61 from complications following heart surgery, was one of the best known and most dependable supporting actors of his generation, and made memorable appearances in films such as True Lies, Aliens and Titanic, all of which were directed by his friend James Cameron.

Paxton and Cameron first met as young men when they were building a film set on a low-budget movie. "We quickly recognised the creative spark in each other and became friends fast," the director recalled. Cameron gave a bit part to his friend in his first major hit, The Terminator (1984), in which Paxton played a pugnacious blue-haired punk who is flung against a metal gate by Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator.

It was not the last time he would suffer a grisly fate on screen and Paxton was thought to be the only actor to have been killed off by the Terminator, Predator (in Predator 2) and a Xenomorph (in Aliens).

He would often take on roles which belied his all-American good looks, and was all the more effective as a result. In Weird Science (1985) he played the sneering and sadistic older brother, Chet, with a perfect combination of menace and comic timing. In 1986, he was the oafish, cowardly and yet strangely sympathetic Private William Hudson in Cameron's Aliens, and he seemed to revel in his portrayal of Simon, the deeply unpleasant misogynist car salesman in True Lies (1994).

In 1997, Paxton appeared at the beginning and end of Cameron's Titanic as a modern-day treasure hunter, and he also worked with Cameron on his documentary Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), in which Paxton, Cameron and a group of scientists made an expedition to the wreck of the Titanic using Russian deep-submersibles.

William Paxton was born on May 17, 1955 in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Mary Lou (nee Gray) and John Lane Paxton, a lumber salesman who later followed his son into acting.

As an eight year old, young Bill was in the crowd when John F Kennedy emerged from his hotel on the morning of his assassination and a photograph of him being lifted above the crowd is on display in a museum in Texas. He later narrated a documentary about the day of the assassination and produced the film, Parkland (2013), a drama about the chaotic events that followed the shooting.

After becoming interested in film-making as a teenager, Paxton moved to Los Angeles where he met Cameron, whom he helped to create the spaceships for Galaxy of Terror (1981), the cult low-budget horror film.

Paxton's other film roles included that of a psychotic vampire in Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) and the somewhat innocent chief of police in Carl Franklin's One False Move (1992), which brought a spark of humanity and subtlety to a dark and violent film.

In Apollo 13 (1995), he was one of the astronauts of the aborted 1970 lunar mission, and in 1995 he starred opposite Helen Hunt as the storm chaser Bill 'The Extreme' Harding in the disaster movie Twister. In Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, he played a man whose discovery of $4m after a plane crash does not turn out to be as fortuitous as he had hoped.

Paxton also directed Frailty (2001, in which he also starred) and The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005). In 2014, he appeared alongside Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, giving what one critic described as a "dead-on target performance as the no-nonsense, death-or-glory, duty-bound Master Sergeant Farell, adding to both the laughs and the peculiar sense of inescapable fate".

Latterly he starred in a number of successful television series including Big Love (2006-2011) for which he received three Golden Globe nominations, and the historical series Hatfields & McCoys (2012), in which he starred alongside Kevin Costner.

At the time of his death, Paxton had just finished work on The Circle, an adaptation of Dave Eggers's book about a sinister internet company.

In an interview shortly before his death, Paxton revealed that, despite a 40-year career, he still suffered from nerves. "Every time I get in front of that camera," he admitted, "I have a bit of a panic attack."

Bill Paxton was married to Kelly Rowan from 1979 to 1980. In 1987 he married Louise Newbury. She survives him with their son and daughter.

© Telegraph

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