By now, it is no mystery that actor Bill Paxton died this past Saturday, February 25, 2017 due to complications from surgery. Paxton’s passing hit the entertainment world pretty hard. Over the past five decades, Paxton has become the go-to actor when a director wanted a solid, reliable performance. Whether in short films, TV shows, or in blockbuster summer hits, Paxton always shined on screen and usually stole the film–often times from the lead actors.
Bill Paxton made his first on-screen appearance in 1975 in Jonathan Demme’s, Crazy Mama. This was an uncredited role, but it was enough to bite Paxton with the acting bug, and it was enough to be noticed in the industry. Paxton went on to appear in a few shorts, a TV series, and a TV movie while he honed his craft and developed as an actor. Then in 1980, Paxton made his directorial debut with the music video to the cult classic song, “Fish Heads:”
A most bizarre song that became a classic in the 1980s, no doubt due to the strange music video.
Paxton also had small roles in Bill Murray’s Stripes (1981), in the 1983 horror film, Mortuary, and 1984’s Streets of Fire. In 1984, Paxton also starred in a small film titled, The Terminator (maybe you’ve heard of it?). Although his role was very small, Paxton left a huge impression. Hell, most people think Paxton was one of the stars!! But perhaps Paxton’s big break was in the teen scifi-comedy, Weird Science. In this film, Paxton played Chet, the older brother to one of the min characters. Chet was brash, an a*****e, a bully, and an overall miserable character, and Paxton KILLED it. He was so good as Chet that he stole every scene he was in, and arguable stole the entire film.
This, in a nutshell, is what made Bill Paxton such a fantastic actor: He embraced every one of his roles, no matter how big or small, and ran with it. Whether the leader of a gang that gets wasted by a cyborg from the future, or an intercept officer being bested by a Commando, Paxton shined in all his roles. I believe his first really memorable role was in the 1986 follow-up to the gothic scifi-horror film, Alien, aptly titled, Aliens. In this film, Paxton played Private Hudson, a soldier who puts on a macho bravado exterior, but when s**t goes South, he lets his guard down and becomes a whiney, scared annoyance.
“Game over,” became one of the defining quotes of the 1980s, and I was known to use this quote on occasion. And then there was this exchange, further developing Paxton’s Private Hudson as a class-A coward:
Ripley: How long after we’re declared overdue can we expect a rescue?
Corporal Hicks: [pause] Seventeen days.
Private Hudson: Seventeen *days*? Hey man, I don’t wanna rain on your parade, but we’re not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before. And they’re gonna come in here…
Private Hudson: …and they’re gonna come in here AND THEY’RE GONNA GET US!
Ripley: Hudson! This little girl survived longer than that with no weapons and no training.
To this, Private Hudson fires back:
Than not a year later in 1986, Bill Paxton starred in a film that redefined the entire vampire sub-genre. Near Dark, directed by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, gave us a pack of vampires who drove deserted highways at night and invaded small, s**t-kicking towns in the middle of nowhere to feed and survive. Paxton was Severen, the most brutal of the pack. The scene in the bar will send chills up and down your spine. That one scene alone has so much tension in it that you’ll need a valium after it is over.
Near Dark is a fantastic film that stands the test of time and will have you riveted to the screen. Paxton, once again, steals this film and makes the character of Severen his own. And when you steal a film away from horror icon, Lance Henriksen, you know you’re dealing with a he talent!!
After his intense performance in Near Dark, Paxton continued to solidify his reputation as one of the best working actors out there by appearing in Predator 2, Brain Dead, Navy Seals, One False Move, Trespass, Tombstone, True Lies, Apollo 13, and of course, Twister, Titanic, and A Simple Plan. His resume is nothing short of extraordinary, and I’m only scratching the surface.
Then in 2001, Paxton decided to get behind the camera and directed Frailty, one of the best horror films of 2001. Just like with his acting, Frailty, which Paxton also starred in, is intense, dark, and is a film you won’t soon forget. If you haven’t seen Frailty yet, you need to stop what you’re doing and watch it–not because Bill Paxton recently died, but because it is a phenomenal film.
More recently, Paxton starred in the critically acclaimed HBO series, Big Love, and absolutely killed it again in the, as John Garrett. Although he was only in six episodes, Paxton made Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. his own and saved what would have been a very lackluster season.
Bill Paxton’s death has been felt in every genre and his too-early departure creates a void for a solid, consistent actor. Whether he was the star or just a supporting actor, Bill Paxton embraced every role and gave 200% in everything he did.
You will be missed, Bill Paxton, but you will never be forgotten.
R.I.P., Bill Paxton.