Bill Paxton

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Bill Paxton
Bill Paxton 2014 retouched.jpg
Paxton in 2014
William Paxton

(1955-05-17)May 17, 1955
DiedFebruary 25, 2017(2017-02-25) (aged 61)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
  • Actor
  • director
  • producer
  • screenwriter
Years active1975–2017
  • Kelly Rowan
    (m. 1979; div. 1980)
  • Louise Newbury
    (m. 1987)
Children2; including James

William Paxton[1] (May 17, 1955 – February 25, 2017)[2] was an American actor and filmmaker. He appeared in films such as Weird Science (1985), Near Dark (1987), Aliens (1986),Tombstone (1993), True Lies (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Twister (1996), and Titanic (1997). He also starred in the HBO drama series Big Love (2006–2011), earning three Golden Globe Award nominations during the show's run.[3] He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for portraying Randall McCoy in the History channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys (2012) and as Detective Frank Roarke in the CBS television series Training Day (2017).[4][5] His final film appearance was in The Circle (2017), released two months after his death.[6]

Early life[edit]

Paxton (the child seen raised above the crowd) before JFK emerges from the Hotel Texas on November 22, 1963

Paxton was born on May 17, 1955 in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Mary Lou (née Gray) and John Lane Paxton (1920–2011). His father was a businessman, lumber wholesaler, museum executive and, later, during his son's career, an occasional actor, most notably appearing in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films as Bernard Houseman, as well as alongside Bill in A Simple Plan (1998).[7] Paxton was of English, Scotch-Irish, Scottish, Austrian, German, French, Swiss and Dutch descent, and also had distant Welsh and Norwegian ancestry. His great-great-grandfather was Elisha Franklin Paxton, a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, who was killed commanding the legendary Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Paxton's mother was Roman Catholic and he and his siblings were raised in her faith.[8] Paxton was in the crowd when President John F. Kennedy emerged from the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth on the morning of his assassination on November 22, 1963. Photographs of an eight-year-old Paxton being lifted above the crowd are on display at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.[9][10] He later co-produced the film Parkland, about the assassination. Paxton is distantly related to actress Sara Paxton and great nephew of Mary Paxton Keeley, prominent journalist and close friend of Bess Wallace Truman.

Paxton graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth in 1973, after which he studied at Richmond College in England, alongside his old high school friend Danny Martin. There, they met fellow Texan Tom Huckabee, with whom they made Super 8 short films for which they built their own sets.[11] Paxton subsequently moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in props and art departments, and after being rejected by film schools in southern California, he switched his ambitions from directing to acting.[12]


Among Paxton's earliest roles were a minor role as a punk in The Terminator (1984), a minor role as a bartender in Streets of Fire, a supporting role as the lead protagonist's bullying older brother Chet Donnelly in John Hughes's Weird Science (1985), and Private William Hudson in Aliens (1986).

He directed several short films, including the music video for Barnes & Barnes's novelty song "Fish Heads", which aired during Saturday Night Live's low-rated 1980–81 season and was in heavy rotation during the early days of Canadian music channel MuchMusic. He was cast in a music video for the 1982 Pat Benatar song "Shadows of the Night" in which he appeared as a Nazi radio officer.

Music career[edit]

In 1982, Paxton and his friend, Andrew Todd Rosenthal, formed a new wave musical band called Martini Ranch. The band released its only full-length album, Holy Cow, in 1988 on Sire Records.[13] The album was produced by Devo member Bob Casale, and featured guest appearances by two other members of that band.[14] The music video for the band's single "Reach" was directed by James Cameron.[15] In 2018, his performances as Peter "Coconut Pete" Wabash in Broken Lizard's Club Dread were released posthumously on the album Take Another Hit: The Best of Coconut Pete.[16]


In 1981, Paxton worked in the movie Stripes[17] as a soldier, in the bar scene with John Candy and Bill Murray.[18]

He worked alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) and in Commando (1985). He reunited with Cameron on Aliens (1986). His performance in the latter film as Private Hudson earned him the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.[19]

He also appeared in Weird Science (1985). In 1987, Paxton played the most psychotic of the vampires, Severen, in Kathryn Bigelow's critically acclaimed neo-Western horror film, Near Dark.


In 1990, Paxton appeared in Predator 2 (1990). He collaborated with James Cameron again on True Lies (1994) and Titanic (1997), the latter of which was the highest-grossing film of all time at its release. In his other roles, Paxton played Morgan Earp in Tombstone (1993), Fred Haise in Apollo 13 (1995), Bill Harding in Twister (1996), and lead roles in dark dramas such as One False Move (1992) and A Simple Plan (1998). In 1990, he co-starred with Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn in Navy Seals.

He also appeared in Mighty Joe Young (1998). He was in Indian Summer (1993) filmed in Canada.


Paxton in 2013

After 2000, he appeared in U-571 (2000), Vertical Limit (2000), Frailty (2001), Broken Lizard's Club Dread (2004), Thunderbirds (2004), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Nightcrawler (2014).

Paxton directed the feature films Frailty (2001), in which he also starred, and The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005).[20] Four years after appearing in Titanic, he joined Cameron on an expedition to the actual Titanic. A film about this trip, Ghosts of the Abyss was released in 2003.[20] He also appeared in the music video for Limp Bizkit's 2003 song "Eat You Alive" as a sheriff. In addition, Paxton also played a character in both Spy Kids 2 and Spy Kids 3-D.

His highest-profile television performances received much positive attention, including his lead role in HBO's Big Love (2006–2011), for which Paxton received three Golden Globe Award nominations. Paxton also received good reviews for his performance in the History Channel's miniseries Hatfields & McCoys (2012), for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award alongside co-star, Kevin Costner.

In 2014, he played the role of the villainous John Garrett in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a supporting role in Edge of Tomorrow (2014).[20] He starred alongside Jon Bernthal, Rose McGowan and John Malkovich as a playable character in the 2014 video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (downloadable "Exo Zombies" mode).[21] In February 2016, Paxton was cast as Detective Frank Rourke for Training Day, a crime-thriller television series set 15 years after the events of the eponymous 2001 movie; it premiered a year later.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Paxton was married to Kelly Rowan from 1979 to 1980.[23] In 1987 he married Louise Newbury, whom he first met on the Number 13 bus in London when she was a student.[24] With Louise, Paxton fathered two children: James, also an actor, and Lydia.[24]

Illness and death[edit]

In early 2017, Paxton stated in an interview with Marc Maron on WTF with Marc Maron that he had a damaged aortic heart valve, resulting from rheumatic fever he contracted at the age of 13.[25] On February 14, 2017, Paxton underwent open-heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to repair the damaged valve as well as correct an aortic aneurysm.[26][27] The following day, he underwent an emergency second surgery to repair a damaged coronary artery.[28] Paxton's condition continued to deteriorate over the following ten days, and on February 25, 2017, he suffered a fatal stroke.[24][29][30][31]

One year after Paxton's death, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ali Khoynezhad, the surgeon who performed Paxton's operation, alleging that Khoynezhad used "high-risk and unconventional" methods, and that he was not present in the operating room when Paxton began suffering complications, including ventricular dysfunction, tachycardia, and a compromised right coronary artery, which they claim contributed to the coronary artery damage that necessitated a second surgery, and ultimately, led to Paxton's death.[28]

His remains were cremated, and are interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park of Hollywood Hills.[32]


Upon learning of his death, a number of storm chasers paid tribute to his Twister role by spelling out his initials via the Spotter Network.[33]

On February 26, 2017, while introducing the annual In Memoriam segment at the 89th Academy Awards, which took place the day after Paxton's death, a visibly emotional Jennifer Aniston paid verbal tribute to Paxton.[34]

Book authors also paid tribute, such as Dennis E. Taylor (Bobiverse Series; Book 3 - "For Bill Paxton, who brought a little more humanity to some great SF movies.")

The television show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. paid tribute at the end of the season 4 episode 16 titled "What If..."[35]

Film dedications[edit]

The film Call Me by Your Name, released in November 2017, is dedicated to Paxton's memory. Peter Spears, producer of the film, explained that this was because his husband, Brian Swardstrom, who was also Paxton's best friend and agent, visited the set with Paxton during filming and befriended the film's director, Luca Guadagnino, who ultimately decided to dedicate the movie "in loving memory of Bill Paxton".[36] Close friend and frequent collaborator James Cameron wrote a tribute to Paxton in an article for Vanity Fair detailing their 36-year friendship and expressing remorse over the projects they wouldn't be able to make together.[37] Numerous other filmmakers and actors also paid tribute, including Cary Elwes,[38] Rob Lowe,[39] Tom Hanks,[40] Charlize Theron,[41] former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,[42] Michael Biehn,[43] Jordan Peele,[41] William Shatner,[41] Jamie Lee Curtis,[41] as well as his years-long Big Love co-stars Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin.[41] Sevigny remembered Paxton as:

One of the less cynical, jaded people I've ever met in the business.... He believed in entertainment being transportive and transformative. He believed in the magic of what we can bring to people. That was really a gift that he gave to me.[44]

The 2019 John Travolta film, The Fanatic, was dedicated to Paxton. The film co-starred Paxton's son James.



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1975 Crazy Mama John Uncredited [45]
1981 Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker/Night Warning Eddie as William Paxton
Stripes Soldier #8 [20]
1983 Reckless 'Bobo'
The Lords of Discipline Gilbreath [20]
Mortuary Paul Andrews [20]
Taking Tiger Mountain Billy Hampton [46]
1984 Streets of Fire Clyde The Bartender [20]
Impulse Eddie [20]
The Terminator Punk Leader [20]
1985 Weird Science Chet Donnelly [20]
Commando Intercept Officer #1 [20]
1986 Aliens Private William Hudson [20]
1987 Near Dark Severen [20]
1988 Pass the Ammo Jesse Wilkes [20]
1989 Slipstream Matt Owens [20]
Next of Kin Gerald Gates [20]
Back to Back Bo Brand [20]
1990 Brain Dead Jim Reston [20]
The Last of the Finest Howard 'Hojo' Jones [20]
Navy SEALs Floyd "God" Dane [20]
Predator 2 Detective Jerry Lambert [20]
1991 The Dark Backward Gus [20]
1992 One False Move Sheriff Dale 'Hurricane' Dixon [20]
The Vagrant Graham Krakowski [20]
Trespass Vince [20]
1993 Boxing Helena Ray O'Malley [20]
Indian Summer Jack Belston [20]
Monolith Tucker [20]
Tombstone Morgan Earp [20]
1994 Future Shock Vince [20]
True Lies Simon [20]
1995 Apollo 13 Fred Haise [20]
The Last Supper Zachary Cody [20]
Frank and Jesse Frank James [20]
1996 Twister Bill 'The Extreme' Harding [20]
The Evening Star Jerry Bruckner [20]
1997 Traveller Bokky [20]
Titanic Brock Lovett [20]
1998 A Simple Plan Hank Mitchell [20]
Mighty Joe Young Professor Gregory O'Hara [20]
2000 U-571 Lieutenant Commander Mike Dahlgren [20]
Vertical Limit Elliot Vaughn [20]
2001 Frailty Dad Meiks Also director [20]
2002 Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams 'Dinky' Winks Cameo [20]
2003 Ghosts of the Abyss Himself / Narrator [20]
Resistance Major Ted Brice [47]
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over 'Dinky' Winks Cameo [20]
2004 Broken Lizard's Club Dread Pete 'Coconut Pete' Wabash [20]
Thunderbirds Jeff Tracy [20]
Haven Carl Ridley [48]
2005 Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D Edgar Mitchell Short film [49]
2007 The Good Life Robbie [20]
2011 Haywire John Kane
Tornado Alley Narrator
2012 Shanghai Calling Donald [50]
2013 The Colony Mason [20]
2 Guns CIA Agent Earl [20]
Red Wing Jim Verret [20]
2014 Million Dollar Arm Tom House [20]
Edge of Tomorrow Master Sergeant Farell [20]
Nightcrawler Joe Loder [20]
2015 Pixies Eddie Beck Voice [51]
2016 Term Life Detective Joe Keenan [20]
Mean Dreams Wayne Caraway [20]
2017 The Circle Vinnie Holland Posthumous release [20]


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1983 Deadly Lessons Eddie Fox Movie [20]
1985 An Early Frost Bob Maracek Movie [20]
The Atlanta Child Murders Campbell Miniseries [20]
1986 Fresno Billy Joe Bobb Miniseries (4 episodes) [20]
Miami Vice Detective Vic Romano Episode: "Streetwise" [52]
1987 The Hitchhiker Trout Episode: "Made for Each Other" [53]
1993 Tales from the Crypt Billy DeLuca Episode: "People Who Live in Brass Hearses" [52]
1998 A Bright Shining Lie John Paul Vann Movie [20]
2003 Frasier Ernie Episode: "Analyzed Kiss" [52]
2006–11 Big Love Bill Henrickson Lead role (53 episodes) [54]
2012 Hatfields & McCoys Randolph McCoy Miniseries (3 episodes) [54]
2013 JFK: The Day That Changed Everything Narrator Documentary [55]
2014 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. John Garrett 6 episodes [52]
2015 Texas Rising Sam Houston Miniseries [56][57]
The Gamechangers Jack Thompson Movie [58]
2017 Training Day Detective Frank Roarke Lead role (13 episodes) [52]

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist Role Notes Ref.
1980 "Fish Heads" Barnes & Barnes Main character Also director [59]
1982 "Love Tap" Barnes & Barnes Main character
"Shadows of the Night" Pat Benatar Wehrmacht-Unteroffizier [53]
1983 "Soak It Up" Barnes & Barnes Main character
1984 "Ah Ā" Barnes & Barnes
1986 "How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self-Culture?" Martini Ranch
1987 "Touched by the Hand of God" New Order [60]
1988 "Reach" Martini Ranch Main character [53]
2003 "Eat You Alive" Limp Bizkit Sheriff [53]

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2015 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Kahn Exo Zombies [21]

Production work[edit]


Year Title Notes Ref.
1980 Saturday Night Live 1 episode
Barnes & Barnes: Fish Heads Video short
2001 Frailty
2005 The Greatest Game Ever Played [20]
2011 Tattoo Short


Year Title Notes
1977 The Egyptian Princess, an Unfolding Fantasy Short
1980 Barnes & Barnes: Fish Heads Video short
Executive producer
1982 Scoop Short
1988 Martini Ranch: Reach Video short
Martini Ranch: How Can the Laboring Man Find Time for Self-Culture Video Short
1997 Traveller
2007 The Good Life Executive producer
2013 Parkland


Year Title Notes
1980 Barnes & Barnes: Fish Heads Video short
Head writer
1981 Barnes & Barnes: Love Tap Video short
Head writer
1982 Scoop Short
2011 Tattoo Short

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Title Result Ref.
1983 USA Film Festival Honorable Mention Scoop Won [61]
1987 Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actor Aliens Won [62]
1995 CableACE Awards Best Actor in a Dramatic Series Tales from the Crypt Nominated [63]
1996 Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Apollo 13 Won [64]
1997 Saturn Awards Best Actor Twister Nominated
1998 Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Titanic Nominated [65]
1999 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film A Bright Shining Lie Nominated [66]
2003 Saturn Awards Best Director Frailty Nominated [67]
2006 Satellite Awards Best Actor – Television Series Drama Big Love Nominated [68]
2007 Nominated [69]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Television Series Drama Nominated [66]
2008 Nominated [66]
2009 Satellite Awards Best Actor – Television Series Drama Nominated [70]
2010 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Television Series Drama Nominated [66]
2012 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie Hatfields & McCoys Nominated [71]
2013 Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Nominated [72]


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External links[edit]