In Memoriam: Bill Paxton, 1955 – 2017

Losing a beloved pop culture icon is always an occasion filled with sorrow and pain, but the circumstances seem even more cruel when we lose talented and creative artists from our community who still seem to have so much left to give to their craft and so many more years to share with family, friends, and fans. This sentiment definitely rang true over the past weekend, as news broke regarding the heartbreaking loss of prolific actor Bill Paxton. Passing at the all-too-early age of 61, confirmation of Paxton’s death occurred on Sunday, February 26, 2017, and the following statement was released by a representative for the family:

"It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery. A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker. Bill's passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable. We ask to please respect the family's wish for privacy as they mourn the loss of their adored husband and father."

Paxton holds a special place in the hearts of geeks and genre lovers everywhere, having contributed dozens of memorable, fan-favorite, and easily quotable characters to television and film. Like many, I first “met” Paxton as Private First Class William L. Hudson in the James Cameron masterpiece, Aliens. As the smart-ass Colonial Marine who starts out filled to the brim with false bravado and machismo, then quickly crumples when faced with real loss in the heat of battle, Paxton brought a relatable vulnerability to Hudson and paired it with an onscreen charisma that made you root for the struggling Private and eagerly await his next scene, despite all of his character’s flaws. It could have easily been a forgettable or overly melodramatic role, but Paxton gave us a character that not only raised the bar of the film as a whole, but would be remembered for decades to come (as would some of his often repeated lines - “Game over, man!”). In addition, for many fine and talented actors, the character of Hudson could’ve been the one great role that defined their career, but Paxton went on to show he had not only amazing talent as an actor, but amazing versatility.

Paxton thrilled audiences as the psychotic vampire Severen in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, and also delivered heartfelt performances as astronaut Fred Haise in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and Morgan Earp in the modern western classic, Tombstone. As part of 1996 disaster film blockbuster, Twister, Paxton not only entertained audiences, but helped raise the public profile of storm chasing so noticeably that his death inspired real-life storm chasers to respond by literally putting his initials on their maps, using their GPS coordinates to spell the letters “BP” (as reported by Gizmodo). And, as many have pointed out before, Paxton does hold the distinct honor of being the only actor to have been killed by an alien (Aliens), Predator (Predator 2), and Terminator (The Terminator) on screen. Now, while two of those silver screen “deaths” were under the watchful eye of director James Cameron, that certainly wasn’t the last time the two sci-fi figures worked together. Paxton and Cameron were lifelong friends and reunited for hits like True Lies and the box office-shattering cinematic epic, Titanic. Once again, where a lesser actor would have allowed the character of treasure hunter Brock Lovett to fade into the framework that the character helps provide for the plot of the film, Paxton helped add a sincere and heartfelt subplot to the story. Four years after appearing in Titanic, Paxton joined Cameron for the documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss, which involved a real-life dive to the wreck of the actual Titanic. When Cameron heard of the news of his friend’s passing, he told Vanity Fair that Paxton was “a good man, a great actor, and a creative dynamo” and that “the world is a lesser place for his passing.”

Paxton’s accolades and accomplishments don’t end there. In addition to the roles previously mentioned, Paxton also received three Golden Globe nominations for his lead role in HBO’s Big Love, brought his star power to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an embedded HYDRA agent during the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and both starred in and directed the psychological thriller, Frailty. Last year, Paxton's TV career continued when he was cast as Detective Frank Roarke in the Training Day television series set 15 years after the events of the feature film with the same title (starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke).

While geekdom certainly mourns his passing, Paxton will live on in the various roles he portrayed throughout his enviable career, as well as through the numerous lives he touched. As Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted on the day of the actor’s passing, “Bill Paxton could play any role, but he was best at being Bill - a great human being with a huge heart.” Time and again, this is the story told regarding those who interacted with Paxton and knew him best. Paxton was a friendly, joyful man who loved life, loved his friends and family, and loved the work he did. Paxton may be remembered for his more outlandish and off-the-wall performances, but, in truth, it was his innate charm and big heart that allowed him to so honestly portray the everyman and endeared him, forever, to audiences everywhere.

You will be missed, Mr. Paxton.

Game over, man… Game over.

*Photo courtesy of Google images.

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