Bill Paxton, legendary actor and filmmaker with iconic roles in everything from James Cameron’s Aliens to Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, died Saturday at the age of 61.
“It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery,” a family statement reads at TMZ, adding that he celebrated an “illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and flimmaker. Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Paxton was raised by his mother Mary Lou and his father John Lane Paxton, who was both a businessman and an actor. At the age of 18, Paxton moved to Los Angeles, California, finding work as a set dresser for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, where he made his film debut in Jonathan Demme’s 1975 film, Crazy Mama. Shortly after this, he moved out East to study acting at New York University under Stella Adler.
During this time, he started directing, writing and producing award-winning short films, specifically 1980’s Fish Heads, which made its way on to Saturday Night Live. Eventually, he landed a minor role in 1981’s Stripes, opening the door for more work in low-budget films and television. One such opportunity was working with James Cameron for his 1984 sci-fi thriller The Terminator, tipping off a long relationship with the filmmaker.
From there, Paxton began turning heads with notable supporting roles, from his hilarious performance as Wyatt Donnelly’s sadistic older brother Chet in John Hughes’ 1985 sex romp Weird Science to the lewd and crude Private Hudson in Cameron’s 1986 action horror blockbuster Aliens to the leather-loving nomadic vampire Severin in Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 cult horror classic, Near Dark.
Following his appearance in Carl Franklin’s 1992 thriller One False Move, Paxton began to regularly land essential roles, specifically for George P. Cosmatos’ 1993 western Tombstone, Cameron’s 1994 action comedy True Lies, Ron Howard’s 1995 true-life space drama Apollo 13, Jan de Bont’s 1996 box office juggernaut, Twister, and, of course, Cameron’s 1997 Academy Award-winning, record-breaking historical drama, Titanic.
Other essential roles would later follow with Sam Raimi’s 1998 stone-cold thriller A Simple Plan, Steven Soderberg’s action thriller Haywire, Doug Liman’s 2014 sci-fi action stunner Live. Die. Repeat., and Dan Gilroy’s 2014 Academy-Award nominated neo-noir hit Nightcrawler.
In 2001, Paxton finally tried his hand at directing a feature film with the critically acclaimed horror thriller, Frailty, starring Matthew McConaughey and the inimitable Powers Booth. He would later go on to direct the 2005 biographical sports drama The Greatest Game Ever Played, based on the early life of golf champion Francis Ouimet, and a short film in 2011 titled Tattoo.
In addition to film, Paxton expanded his resume on television, playing Mormon patriarch Bill Henrickson for five seasons of HBO’s Big Love and Randolph McCoy in the History Channel’s 2012 historical mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys. He also played John Garrett in a recurring role on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was currently starring in FOX’s television adaptation of Training Day as Detective Frank Roarke.
More recently, he appeared on an exceptionally intimate episode of WTF with Marc Maron, where he discussed his storied career and waxed nostalgic on his family. His final film role will be seen in James Ponsoldt’s forthcoming thriller The Circle, which stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, and John Boyega, and opens on April 28th.
He is survived by his wife of 30 years Louise Newbury and their two children.