With his rich, distinctively Texan voice and everyman looks, actor Bill Paxton, born in 1955, in Texas, has played a variety of roles, from offbeat characters to leading men. He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, where his father worked in the family’s lumber business. Paxton’s father was also a supporter of the arts, and he frequently took his children to the movies and other cultural events.
In January 1974, Paxton decided to move to Los Angeles to break into the film industry. His first job was as a production assistant on an industrial film for Encyclopedia Britannica, a gig he landed through a friend of his father. Paxton then worked as a set dresser for the king of B-movies, Roger Corman, for a time. Before long he landed his first role, a small part in the Jonathan Demme, directed ‘Crazy Mama’ (1975).
At the age of 21, Paxton headed east for college. He went to New York University, where he studied with famed acting instructor Stella Adler. While he was amazed by Adler, Paxton dropped out after two years. “I didn’t see any point in a degree, I didn’t see where I’d be filling that in on an application for any kind of job,” he later told ‘Texas Monthly’. He then returned to Los Angeles.
In 1980, Paxton had some success with a short film he made called “Fish Heads,” which was shown on ‘Saturday Night Live’. He landed a series of small roles, appearing such films as the 1983 military school drama ‘The Lords of Discipline’ and the science fiction hit ‘The Terminator’ (1984). One of his most memorable early roles was in 1985’s Weird Science starring Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith and Kelly LeBrock. In the film, he played the evil older brother of one of the lead characters. This villainous turn by Paxton left a lasting impression on many moviegoers.
After years in character roles, Paxton showed his abilities as a lead actor in ‘One False Move’ (1992), co-starring Billy Bob Thornton. He earned raves for his portrayal of a small-town lawman involved in the pursuit of two dangerous criminals. His work on this small independent thriller helped open the door to much bigger films, including the hit true-life space drama ‘Apollo 13’ (1995) and the natural-disaster blockbuster ‘Twister’ (1996).
Paxton has also explored opportunities behind the scenes as well. He served as a producer for 1997’s ‘Traveller’, a drama about a group of con artists. A few years later, Paxton made his directorial debut with the crime drama ‘Frailty’ (2001) with Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe. He followed up that effort with the 2005 golfing story ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’.
After several years of lackluster film roles, Paxton landed the leading role in a new television series. ‘Big Love’, which debuted in 2006, followed the lives of Bill Henrickson, a Utah businessman and polygamist, and his three wives. Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin played Paxton’s spouses in the popular drama. “I’ve always thought that the show is a metaphor for untraditional couples and untraditional families. We live in a modern society, where the traditional man-woman union isn’t the only accepted norm anymore,” he told ‘Vanity Fair’.
Paxton earned numerous positive reviews for his work on the series. Despite his character’s unusual beliefs and practices, he succeeded at making Henrickson believable and real. As one critic put it, Paxton “takes what might have been an unsavory creep and makes him sweet, even universal: the ultimate overtaxed man.”
After ‘Big Love’ ended in 2011, Paxton moved on to other projects. He stars with Kevin Costner in the 2012 History Channel miniseries ‘Hatfields & McCoys’, about the legendary feuding families. Paxton plays Randall McCoy, and Costner plays “Devil” Anse Hatfield. Paxton will also appear the upcoming Civil War drama ‘To Appomattox’. On the big screen, he co-stars with Laurence Fishburne in the upcoming post-apocalyptic thriller ‘The Colony’.
He past away on February 25, 2017, following complications from surgery. He was 61.