In Memoriam: BIll Paxton (1955-2017)
It’s not often that we write from a personal perspective at SBOC, for journalistic reasons as well as overall consistency. But dammit, when someone comes to the end of their time on Earth who is truly adored by millions of geeks worldwide, we can’t talk about them without it being personal. I grew up in the era everyone seems to be drawing from in entertainment these days – and few actors were seemingly given as free reign to be themselves as Bill Paxton.
Alongside Jack Nicholson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paxton committed a slew of instantly recognisable lines and off-the-cuff remarks to some of celluloid’s biggest box office hits – but he also struck out into the director’s seat, published graphic novels and appeared on television. The Texan-born smith of quotes started small, right place/right time in many cases, with a small and memorable punk bit-part on James Cameron’s seminal Terminator (1984) being his 9th film, but turning point towards larger things.
He had an easy style with quite irrepressible energy, shifting across the emotional gamut many times throughout a scene, sometimes even in a line. I think that myself and many friends became most aware of Paxton thanks to a truly scene-chewing turn as Private William Hudson in Aliens (1986). Most lovers of sci-fi cinema will know of him from it – as the film itself was iconic enough that even the voiceover of a Carrier unit in Blizzard’s Starcraft quotes lines from the film. In discussing Aliens, it is near-impossible to not parrot some of the dearly-loved levity he gave us in amongst the death and horror found elsewhere, from “You’re dog-meat, pal” to “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen!”. Anyone who can go toe-to-toe with Sigourney Weaver’s onscreen presence and hold their own would be one to watch indeed.
He would go on to breathe life into Detective Jerry Lambert in Predator 2 (1990) “Woof! Talk about B.O. and Barbeque!”, the shifty and carousing con-man Simon in True Lies (1994) “She’s got the most incredible body too and a pair of titties that make you wanna stand up and beg for buttermilk. Ass like a ten year old boy!, astronaut Fred Haise in Apollo 13 (1995) “It hurts when I urinate… No, I’m drinkin’ my rations, same as you… I think old Swigert gave me the clap. Been pissin’ in my relief tube.” and the juggernaut that was Titanic as Brock Lovett (1997) “Seeing her coming out of the darkness like a ghost ship, it still gets me every time!”.
So connected at the hip to James Cameron he was during his real boom time, that the Spielberg-level monster director brought his talents to a music video for ‘Reach’ by Martini Ranch, Paxton’s own band. As a director, he gave us the crushingly dark Frailty (2001) and Tattoo (2011) among a small collection of gems. In television, we spotted him guest-starring on Miami Vice, Tales from the Crypt, Fraiser and most memorably in recent times as John Garrett in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. In 2012 he published the graphic novel ‘Seven Holes for Air’, based on a script by John J. McLaughlin that he hoped to direct, but got it into sequential art form as he believed the story was too good for audiences to possibly miss if a film wasn’t made. I recall being in London for MCM Comic Con one month before the birth of my daughter in 2012, and having been rushed to organise printing/merchandise for my table I hadn’t taken a moment to read through the guest list before arrival. Imagine my inner 7-year-old self trying to jump right out of my skull to meet the badass who taught me that heroes could be ridiculous, while still being honourable and brave.
It always seemed a great injustice that he was nominated for many awards – Golden Globes, Primetime Emmys, Satellite but never an Oscar. In this outstanding career he won only two awards from industry peers, one Saturn and another from The Screen Actors Guild. You could easily argue that the impression he left on a generation has infinitely further reach and deeper connection to all us ’80s kids, but i’d be willing to bet that the industry does give his achievements some posthumous recognition now, loved as he is still by so many.
To quote him one last time, it may be game over man, but Bill is always going to be part of pop culture as a guide – that if all around is darkness, a few words in poetic jest can provide the light to see by.