By: Glynis Neely
One of the most prolific and popular actors of our time, Bill Paxton passed away on February 26th, Sunday morning from surgery complications. Paxton was the type of actor who you felt close to, even if you didn’t know him personally, so losing him feels like a personal loss. He is part of the fabric of so many movies that shaped my love of the medium. The first movie I think I ever saw him in was Titanic, when I was almost too young to remember. He had an incredible range and was always fantastic to watch no matter what character he was playing – from the deplorable car salesman in True Lies to the panicked but diligent astronaut in Apollo 13– and he had over 90 credits on his resume at the time of his death.
When I sat down to think about all the work he’s done, I had a handful of titles go through my mind. I wanted to watch something he was in while I wrote this, but with the long list to choose from I couldn’t make a decision; so I decided to put on the pilot episode of Big Love. While his movies roles were always impressive, for five seasons my family and I watched him our TV and he was always a comforting presence, leading up to and in the wake of that show’s devastating finale. He somehow got me to care about an ex-communicated Mormon trying to hide his three wives and run for office at the same time; I felt for him and it was all due to Paxon’s performance in the role.
He was also known as one of the nicest guys in the industry, so many of his friends and admirers have expressed their profound loss at his passing. As the outpouring of love comes out, no one has had one bad word to say about him. To me, he always seemed to be an incredibly genuine, affable guy and to many he was a national treasure. His southern charm and infectious smile always pulled you in no matter where he showed up in a movie. I had loved him for years, starting with his role as repulsive older brother Chet in Weird Science. Eventually the one that had more of an impact on me than all his movies was Twister, which also happens to be boosted by another gone-too-soon artist, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’ve seen it so many times and quote it more than any of his other movies and could watch it anytime, even to this day.
Throughout his career, Paxton lent his talents to blockbusters and indie films alike. Most recently, he was in the Oscar nominated Nightcrawler alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, the Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow, and the action-comedy 2 Guns. He was in plenty of films, but his work on TV can’t be ignored with his turn in the Emmy nominated Hatfields & McCoys as the titular Randall McCoy. Before his passing he was back on the small screen starring on the CBS drama Training Day, the continuation of the 2001 film. He had recently shot an episode with his son and had expressed how much he enjoyed the opportunity to work with him.
Many might not have seen his directorial debut Frailty, but his work is impressive. He does double-duty behind and in front of the camera, starring as a pious man convinced he is doing the lord’s work by killing people he deems sinners, teaching his two young boys his method. It’s mesmerizing, but it’s one of his most unsettling roles and he is truly terrifying. I wish he would’ve done more behind the camera, but we will never know what he could’ve done had he lived longer, or what movies will look like now without him. He had so much more to offer, but at least we have all the brilliant performances he left behind. No matter what role, whether he was the star or only showed up for a few scenes, Paxton was always an invaluable ensemble player; he only elevated the material. He could bring incredible pathos to each and every role and he always had the best lines. And his passing reminds me of one of his most quotable lines as Private Hudson in Aliens, my dad’s favorite movie, “Game over man, game over.”