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Bill Paxton, the everyman actor known for his work in such movies as Aliens, Titanic and Twister and on television shows like Big Love and CBS’ new Training Day, has died, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. He was 61.
“It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery,” his family said in a statement on Sunday, the day of the 89th Academy Awards. “A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker. Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”
The native Texan also appeared in films including The Terminator (1984), Weird Science (1985), Predator 2 (1990), Tombstone (1993), True Lies (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Mighty Joe Young (1998), A Simple Plan (1998), U-571 (2000) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014).
He worked often with James Cameron, who in the 1970s gave Paxton one of his first jobs job in Hollywood — as a member of his night crew when Cameron, long before he was an Oscar-winning director, was a production designer.
“We’re just good friends, and he’s been incredibly loyal to me,” Paxton said in a 1998 interview. “I guess I always fantasized about hooking up with a director and doing a series of films with him. You think of the great actor/director teams, like Scorsese and De Niro.”
They collaborated on movies including Aliens, Terminator, True Lies, Titanic and Ghosts of the Abyss (2003).
Cameron called Paxton “a great human” in a statement to Vanity Fair.
“He took good care of his relationships with people, always caring and present for others,” the filmmaker said. “He was a good man, a great actor and a creative dynamo. I hope that amid the gaudy din of Oscar night, people will take a moment to remember this wonderful man, not just for all the hours of joy he brought to us with his vivid screen presence, but for the great human that he was. The world is a lesser place for his passing, and I will profoundly miss him.”
Paxton played the polygamist Bill Henrickson with three wives — Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin — on HBO’s Big Love from 2006-11, receiving three Golden Globes nominations in the process.
“We are extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Bill Paxton,” HBO said in a statement. “Big Love was a seminal series for HBO for many years due to Bill’s extraordinary talent and grace. Off screen, he was as warm, smart and fun as one could be. A true friend to so many at HBO. He will be greatly missed.”
Paxton also landed an Emmy nomination in 2012 for his role in History’s miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, playing the patriarch of the McCoy clan involved in the infamous American feud.
Most recently, Paxton starred on CBS’ Training Day from Antoine Fuqua. The series is set 15 years after the events of the 2001 feature film, and Paxton played the part of the scummy veteran cop made famous by Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning performance. Training Day premiered Feb. 2 on CBS and wrapped production in December.
“We are truly devastated at the passing of our friend Bill Paxton,” Training Day producer Jerry Bruckheimer said in a statement. “He was a tremendously talented actor, and a wonderful man beloved by the entire cast and crew. Bill’s extraordinary body of work ensures that he will never be forgotten.”
Added CBS and Warner Bros. TV, which produces the show: “We are shocked and deeply saddened this morning by the news of Bill Paxton’s passing. Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work.”
On the film side, the actor had already completed work on The Circle, the adaptation of Dave Eggers’ book directed by James Ponsoldt. He played the father of Emma Watson’s character. The movie is slated for release via STX on April 28.
Paxton portrayed a punk in The Terminator and a scheming car salesman in True Lies and was the bullying older brother of Wyatt Donnelly in John Hughes’ Weird Science. In Aliens, he appeared as the sarcastic Private Hudson, and he and Helen Hunt chased storms in Oklahoma in Jan de Bont’s Twister.
In Titanic, his character, Brock Lovett, drove the narrative as a treasure hunter out to find a necklace with a rare diamond in the wreckage of the sunken ship.
He also directed and starred in the crime thriller Frailty (2001) and helmed the 2005 historical golf movie The Greatest Game Ever Played (he grew up on a street that bordered the Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas).
Paxton was born on May 17, 1955, in Fort Worth, and his father was in the lumber business. When he was 8, he, his brother and his dad went to see John F. Kennedy at a hotel in Fort Worth on the day the president was assassinated. (Photographs of Paxton on that day — he was sitting on a man’s shoulders — can be seen in a museum in Dallas.)
By age 17, Paxton and his friends were making their own films. “We made our own sets and did all that stuff, making it up as we went along. I had a pretty good sense of film from my dad,” Paxton said in a 2012 interview. “He’s an art collector and an architect by hobby. He gave me a real sense of visuals.”
In 1973, Paxton came to Los Angeles and was introduced to Cameron, then working for famed producer Roger Corman as a production designer. “Jim just hired me on the spot,” Paxton said. “I ended up working on his night crew in the art department.”
He went on to make his big-screen debut in the Corman-produced 1975 film Crazy Mama, directed by Jonathan Demme.
After three years in Los Angeles without making much progress as an actor, Paxton moved to New York and studied with the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler, then returned to L.A. in 1978. His first prominent role came in The Lords of Discipline (1983), on which he was credited as “Wild Bill Paxton.”
In a 1998 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Paxton talked about his battles with depression and said he always thought of himself as a long shot in show business.
“I guess there’s kind of an eternal-underdog vibe about my pursuit out here,” he said. “To get to the top of the pyramid, to become a Hollywood fixture, it almost seems like an impossible thing to accomplish.”
Survivors include his wife Louise — he met her in London when he was filming Lords of Discipline — and children James and Lydia.
Mike Barnes contributed to this report.
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