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Hollywood Actor Bill Paxton Obituary By Dark Universe’s Gareth Paterson

Hollywood Actor Bill Paxton Obituary By Dark Universe's Gareth Paterson

“Who? Oh that guy! Oh no.”

That was how many people reacted when they read the recent news that an actor/director called Bill Paxton had died. When looking him up online they were met with that familiar smiling face and the sense of loss finally set in as did the recognition of just how important he was to the last 30 years of film.

Whether battling aliens and younger brothers in the 80’s or chasing tornados and old women’s jewelry in the 90’s Bill Paxton was an instantly likeable, though more often than not peripheral cult icon who appeared in some of the best of popular modern cinema. He may not have been as recognisable as the stars he worked alongside (Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio) but he was an essential secondary element in the great sci fi classics of the 80’s and the blockbusters that came after. He and Lance Henriksen are the only two actors to have squared off with the Terminator, Alien and Predator. In Paxton’s case he met his match against all three but did get out of Titanic in one piece.

In my favourite of his film roles he plays insatiably bloodthirsty vampire Severen in Katherine Bigelow’s beautifully haunting horror western hybrid Near Dark. Roaming through America’s South with a makeshift family of travelling vampires, Paxton plays a modern cowboy still mentally stuck in the Old West exhuding a trademark Texan charm that draws us and Severen’s victims in. With lines like “I hate em when they ain’t been shaved” he brought a grotesque gallows humour and a sense of threat that could shatter the already volatile relationship between the “family” and new member Caleb.

Bill Paxton Near Dark

Paxton’s talents for humour served him well in his role of Pvt. Hudson in Aliens. Hudson serves, as Paxton put it himself as a “pressure valve” relieving the audience of some tension with jarhead quips in between the intense action horror. His fatalistic wisecracks made this character his most quotable. So much so that when news broke of his death many on social media repeated his line “Game over man. Game over.”

He is also beloved by fans for Weird Science where he plays nightmare older brother Chet. Director John Hughes allowed him to improvise heavily and so many of Chet’s funniest lines are Paxton’s own invention. When Chet gets his comeuppance by being transformed into a creature that more resembles his inner slimeball nature Paxton makes this farting, fly eating monster seem hilariously real.

Near Dark allowed him to mix dark humour and grotesque horror, but when it came for him to direct his own film Frailty, Paxton showed he was capable of weaving a genuinely creepy story, somewhere between Stand By Me and Silence of the Lambs. He is one of the few filmmakers to have pulled off an actor/director role without compromising the quality of either. As the father who believes God is commanding him and his sons to kill people he brings a heartbreaking sense of humanity and good intention to what could have been a far less emotionally complex character if given to someone with less talent. Frailty‘s growing dread and horror show how talented a director Paxton was and how much more he could have accomplished.

Bill Paxton Frailty

Two weeks before his death he did a great interview on WTF podcast, talking mostly about his childhood. The episode now stands as an unintentional final autobiography. It includes interesting anecdotes about encountering JFK hours before his assassination and on-set stories.

While continuing the trend of playing small yet key roles films like Edge of Tomorrow and the fantastic Nightcrawler, the final years Bill Paxton’s acting career were spent on mostly in television. For five years he played the lead in polygamist Mormon drama Big Love. It stands as his most acclaimed and studied work.

He performed in some of the lightest and darkest, popular and silently revered pieces of modern Hollywood cinema. His distinctly Texan likeability led itself to a multitude of roles from an astronaut stranded in space to a car salesman trying to bang Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife. He will be remembered for his humour and a versatility that complimented costarring with the best talent Hollywood had to offer, even though Bill Paxton was just as capable and deserving of a starring role.