Paxton, Bill: Beloved Actor of Titanic, Aliens, Big Loves, Dies at 61

Bill Paxton, the talented and versatile actor who appeared in Aliens and Titanic and played a polygamist on HBO’s Big Love has died from complications after heart surgery. He was 61.

A representative for his family asked for privacy and saying, “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”

With a Texas twang and grizzled visage, Paxton often found himself playing military men and cowboys. He was closely associated with James Cameron, playing a punk leader in “The Terminator,” as well as an ill-fated technician in “Aliens,” a venal car dealer in “True Lies” and a treasure hunter in “Titanic.”

 Paxton was known as “wild Bill” for his on-set pranks.

Paxton earned an Emmy nomination for the 2012 mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys,” and was starring as a morally ambiguous detective in the CBS series “Training Day” at the time of his death.

Bill Paxton Big Love

Paxton anchored a few films, portraying a tornado-chasing scientist in the box office smash “Twister” (1996), and a wildlife refuge director in the flop, “Mighty Joe Young” (1998).  In most movies, Paxton cut a morally upright figure, the character actor equivalent of a Kevin Costner or Gary Cooper. But he earned the best reviews of his career for roles that upended his persona. He was gripping as a family man trying to hide stolen money in Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” (1998), and similarly effective playing against type as an ethically compromised lawman in his first major role, Carl Franklin’s “One False Move” (1992).

On the small screen, Paxton played a wife-juggling entrepreneur on “Big Love,” who is haunted by his upbringing in a polygamist Mormon family.

HBO released a statement, saying “We are extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Bill Paxton. ’Big Love’ was a seminal series for HBO for many years due to Bill’s extraordinary talent and grace. Off screen, he was as warm, smart and fun as one could be. A true friend to so many at HBO. He will be greatly missed.”

“Big Love” lasted five seasons, earning three Golden Globe nominations for Paxton. In blunt fashion, Paxton publicly disagreed with the violent way the show ended, decrying its lack of ambiguity.

“It was a great show, it was a landmark show, and it ran its course,” he said in a 2012 interview.  “Five years was a great run, and it had to end somehow, and it ended with a bang, instead of a whimper.”

Paxton earned critical acclaim for “Frailty,” a horror film he made his directorial debut with and starred in as a father beset by demonic visions.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Paxton went to Hollywood when he was 18, and found work as a set dresser for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, working on films like “Big Bad Mama” and “Eat My Dust.”

His first acting role was a small part in Jonathan Demme’s “Crazy Mama” for Corman. Paxton then studied acting in New York under Stella Adler, and made films for “Saturday Night Live” like “Fish Heads,” based on the popular novelty song.