Bill Paxton: 1955-2017

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It’s a real shock to learn of Bill Paxton’s untimely death  due to a post-heart-surgery stroke.  He was just 61, and made a career out of playing drawling smart guys, lovable galoots, heroes and villains.

The Fort Worth native got his start, alongside his lifelong pal, James Cameron, in the low-budget world of indie icon Roger Corman. He went on to make his mark in films, on TV, in front of and behind the camera.

His most recent gig was in the new series “Training Day.” But he was impressive in “Big Love,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Texas Rising” and the superb “Hatfields & McCoys” on TV.

His best films might have been “A Simple Plan” and “Nightcrawler,”  “Tombstone” and “Traveller,” but he was in blockbusters like “Twister” and “Titanic” and “Apollo 13.” He classed up “Edge of Tomorrow” and “U-571” and many others.

He directed a couple of pretty good movies, too — the Biblical prophecy thriller “Frailty,” and Disney’s “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

I interviewed him several times over the years, often about his buddy James Cameron, who cast Paxton in “The Terminator,””Aliens,””Titanic,” and “True Lies.”

“Jim got lucky, we ALL got lucky,” is the way I remember Paxton telling it.

He grinned by default, drawled like he meant it (he grew up in Fort Worth, after all) and had a pretty good time in Hollywood, start to finish.

Here’s how he got the job of directing Shia LaBeouf in “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” It was an action picture…about golf.

“I told Disney, ‘Hire me, and I guarantee I’ll make a movie you can cut a cool trailer from,” he told me at the Toronto Film Festival some years back. He knew the business from the inside out, and he knew he’d have to whizz-bang the heck out of “a good walk spoiled” (still the best one-liner describing golf) to make people want to see a golf match drama. He did.

Oddly enough, the one quote that sticks from that Toronto conversation came from me teasing him about mocking the daylights out of Jimmy Buffett in a thinly-veiled spoof of the “Drunk Caribbean Rock’n Roll Music” maestro in that Broken Lizard comedy troupe horror farce, “Club Dread.” 

“Yeah, I got him PRETTY good,” Paxton joked, laughing. Then he got this serious look on his face. “You think he’s mad?”

Hopefully not, Bill old boy. But if he was, it was totally worth it.

RIP.

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