Rob Lowe Remembers Bill Paxton: "My Closest Friend in the Industry"

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The actor recalls the 'Big Love' star's penchant for fun gifts (JFK's aftershave), their fishing trips and the movie they almost made with James Cameron.

The first time I met Bill I did a guest appearance in a very odd little movie that Bill did called The Dark Backward [released in 1991]. I came in to do one scene for fun because my friends were making it and in the scene Bill took such a big swing as an actor, he went for such a broad, gigantic choice in the take, I'll never forget it. It blew my mind. Wow. "This guy has got huge balls," I thought. And we were friends ever since. Five or six years later, I'm producing the movie Frank and Jesse and starring in it and I reached out to him to play my brother. That was really the beginning of our friendship.

I have so many great memories of Bill. The first time I ever took my kids fishing was with Bill and his son. It was up here in Santa Barbara where I live and all the kids went out and had a great time and fast-forward to 20 years later my son still fishes every weekend and that's because of Bill. What made Bill really special to me was that we both lived outside of L.A. I've lived in Santa Barbara for 25 years. He lived in Ojai for 30 years. He's one of the reasons I moved out of L.A. because I saw a really similar marriage, a really solid man who is building a life not completely centered around the business in spite of the fact that he grew up in the business.

I wrote a screenplay once, for Bill to be in with me, and I'll never forget my cell phone ringing and him saying, "Bobby, you gotta stand by. Jim Cameron is gonna call you, he's read it and loves it." I was like w-w-wait what!? And sure enough Jim called me and that led to a long flirtation where Jim was maybe going to produce it or maybe even act in it, and as we were trying to put it together, as luck would have it, I got The West Wing and nothing ever came of it. But again, that's Bill, out there, stirring the pot, being a fan, being a cheerleader.

When I played JFK [in Killing Kennedy] I came home one day and on my desk was a note from Bill and a package. Bill was just a fanatic for researching things. He came up with the exact aftershave JFK wore and sent it over to me. Oh I wore it. I wore it every day on the set.

When Bill and Jim Cameron dove the Titanic, in typical Bill fashion he sent his closest friends a book of sketches that he made of his three and a half weeks on the North Atlantic, going to dive the Titanic. It's very Bill. Bill is very old-school chivalrous, understood grace notes, the importance of a handwritten letter, the grand gesture. He was very much a man out of his time in a way.

Bill was the most loyal, old-school friend. The type that showed for every single occasion, no matter how small — Bill would be there. If it was, you know, my kid's Bar Mitzvah, Bill's there. If it was my mother's funeral, Bill's there. If it was my book launch party, Bill's there.

Bill was not only one of my closest friends, but he was without a question my closest friend in the industry. To have someone with a common experience, that's really hard in this business, because we get to a place if we're lucky that very few people get to go, so the numbers are small to begin with and then to find somebody in that small group of people who have experienced this life, to find somebody who you're so simpatico with is a rarity. There will be no replacement for me. There will not be.

I can remember a moment when we were making Frank and Jesse, we were sitting on our horses, snow was coming down, Bill's looking off into the distance, seeming a little melancholy and I said, "What's the matter man, you good?" and he goes, "Yeah buddy, I don't know. You know I'm gonna be 40. And I just don't think it's ever gonna happen for me." And within six months, he went on one of the greatest rolls an actor ever had. Twister. Titanic. Apollo 13.

Bill would've loved passing on Oscar weekend. He loved, loved, loved the art of moviemaking and storytelling like no one I've ever met.  

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