Theatre & Film

Fort Worth Native, ‘Apollo 13’ Actor Bill Paxton Dies At 61

Bill Paxton, who as a boy in Fort Worth witnessed John F. Kennedy’s final day and who grew up to be a Hollywood stalwart in such films as “Apollo 13” and “Titanic,” has died from complications after surgery. He was 61.

Bill Paxton was a film festival regular in North Texas. Here, he’s at the Dallas International Film Festival in 2010.

Bill Paxton, who as a boy in Fort Worth witnessed John F. Kennedy’s final day and who grew up to be a Hollywood stalwart in such films as “Apollo 13” and “Titanic,” has died from complications after surgery. He was 61.

A representative of Paxton’s family issued a brief statement Sunday on his death. The statement says, “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”

LISTEN: The KERA radio story.

On screen, Paxton went just about everywhere — from an F5 tornado in Oklahoma (“Twister”), to the bottom of the sea (“Titanic”), to the moon (“Apollo 13”) and beyond (“Aliens”).

He was even in Fort Worth the day Kennedy was killed. There's a black-and-white photo of him from 1963, a wide-eyed little boy whose head bobs above the crowd.

"It was rainy that morning,” he says in the narration for the documentary “JFK: The Final Hours.” “But nobody cared. You see, it wasn't every day you got to see President Kennedy…. What we didn't know is President Kennedy was going to die in just a few hours."

In 2013, Paxton spoke at Texas Christian University about that day a half-century earlier. Watch Paxton’s remarks about his experience in this video, courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The draw of Hollywood

Paxton lived in Fort Worth until age 18. Then he set out for Hollywood, to work in the art department for “B” movie king Roger Corman, who helped launch the careers of numerous actors and filmmakers.

His acting career started with minor turns in films like “Stripes” and “The Terminator,” eventually landing the supporting role of Chet in “Weird Science.” With that Texas twang, he often was cast as a sort of outlaw or cowboy....his character in “Predator 2” was even nicknamed "The Lone Ranger".

His colleague and friend, James Faust, artistic director of the Dallas International Film Festival, says Paxton was relentless.

"He was a workhorse, especially as a character actor,” Faust says. “He loved to get in new parts, and he loved reading scripts and he just loved making films."

Paxton never lost his love for Texas. He helped create the Lone Star International Film Festival in Fort Worth. In 2007, when Faust helped start what was then the AFI/Dallas festival, Paxton returned to host panel discussions and mentor young filmmakers.

"He was sort of like our actor patron saint, our version of De Niro in Tribeca."

On one trip back, Paxton sat down with KERA's Krys Boyd on Think and talked about the difference between acting in drama and comedy.

“I love to do comedy roles,” he said “Dying is easy. Comedy isn’t.”

He had just taken on what would become a landmark TV drama — in HBO's “Big Love,” as a Utah businessman with three wives.

"I just heard it was about polygamy and I thought what the heck is that?... “When I read it, I saw it was about so much more than that, finding this weird lens to refract contemporary morays about society and what's taboo."Krys Boyd talks with Bill Paxton on KERA’s “Think,” March 22, 2007.

Paxton’s movie credits included some of the biggest moneymakers of the past 40 years, from “Titanic” and “Apollo 13” to “The Terminator” and “Aliens.” He died on Oscar weekend, yet was never nominated. He did earn four Golden Globe nominations and one from the Emmys.

He was acting in the CBS series "Training Day" at the time of his death. The series premiered on Feb. 2. The network has not yet announced if it will air the completed episodes.

Paxton was married to Louise Newbury and had two children.

Copyright 2017 KERA-FM. To see more, visit KERA-FM.

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