Bill Paxton, an incredibly talented actor, director, producer, musician and writer, made his mark on the film industry after appearing in hit films like Weird Science, Aliens, and Apollo 13, before going on to conquer TV in the HBO drama series Big Love. Although he tragically died in 2017, he had a fulfilled and successful life. Here are 20 things you never knew about him.
20. He turned down the role of Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown’s series of thriller novels were famously adapted for the silver screen beginning back in the 2000s.
When it came to The Da Vinci Code, Paxton was director Ron Howard’s first choice to play professor of religious symbology Robert Langdon.
Paxton was unable to accept the part, however, because he’d already signed on to take part in the HBO TV series Big Love.
Tom Hanks went on to bag the role of Robert Langdon, in a series of films that would go on to be huge blockbusters – and bring Hanks big pay cheques.
The film brought in a whopping $760 million at the box office, with $18 million of this going straight into Hanks’ pocket.
Hanks earnt even more – a staggering $50 million – when the sequel, Angels and Demons, was released in 2009.
19. He met his wife on a London bus
Back in 2010, Paxton spoke to Los Angeles Magazine about his relationship with his wife, Louise Newbury.
“We’ve been through it all,” he said. “She knew me when I was struggling. She was a student.”
“We met on a bus in London. I’ve seen her give birth. I was with her when her father died.”
“Then we mixed our blood watching these two kids grow up,” he said, referring to their two children James and Lydia.
Paxton was married to his wife for 30 years before his tragic death following the stroke he suffered in 2017.
Newbury has not been publicly romantically linked to anyone else since her husband’s sudden death.
18. He was investigating the wreck of the Titanic when he heard about 9/11
On September 11, 2001, Bill Paxton was not at home in the US but on board a ship in the North Atlantic.
Paxton was assisting director James Cameron in making a documentary about the Titanic, 89 years after it sunk.
Paxton revealed in an interview with the Guardian in 2002 what it was like to hear about the 9/11 news while out at sea.
He said that Cameron had just gone down to the ship’s wreckage in a submarine when he heard the news about what was happening in New York.
“When we first got word, Jim had just gone down with the two subs,” he recalled. “It was the last dive, because Hurricane Erin was coming.” Paxton then had to wait hours for Cameron to resurface before he broke the news to him.
“I said, ‘Jim, the world changed from the time you went down till you came back.’ It was strange. We felt a little bit like survivors out there,” he said.
17. The man Paxton played in Texas Rising turned out to be a relative
Bill Paxton played military leader General Sam Houston in the History Channel 2015 miniseries Texas Rising.
Paxton was drawn to the part after hearing rumours that he was related to the Texan hero.
But these ‘rumours’ turned out to be true after Paxton began researching Houston in preparation for the role.
It turned out that Houston’s mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Paxton, and that the Paxtons hailed from Virginia just like Houston.
When Paxton kept digging he realised that he was Houston’s second cousin four times removed.
Speaking to The LA Times about the role in 2015, Paxton said that “it felt like destiny” to play Houston.
16. He turned down a role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Bill Paxton first worked with legendary director John Hughes back in 1985 on Weird Science.
It seems that Hughes was keen to work with Paxton again, as he went on to ask the actor if he’d feature in one of his next films.
Hughes offered Paxton the role of the garage attendant who takes Cameron’s dad’s car for a spin in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the following year.
Paxton felt the role was too small for him and so he turned down the chance to make a cameo in the film.
Paxton later came to regret turning down the offer, however, as Hughes never offered him a role in any of his films again.
The part eventually went to Richard Edson, who went on to bag minor roles in a number of acclaimed films such as Platoon and Good Morning, Vietnam.
15. Storm chasers paid tribute to him after his death by writing his initials using GPS coordinates
Bill Paxton played storm chaser Dr Bill Harding in the 1996 epic disaster adventure film Twister.
His role in the film led to him gaining a bunch of fans who were real-life storm chasers and fans of the real-life Harding.
After his tragic death in 2017, many storm chasers across Oklahoma joined forces to pay tribute to Paxton.
They formed his initials – BP – using GPS coordinates as a means of commemorating Paxton’s life and celebrating his great performance in Twister.
The tribute spanned across Oklahoma and Kansas – aka, the heart of ‘tornado alley’ in the United States.
John Wetter, president of Spotter Network who organised the tribute, said: “Part scientist, part folksy, Bill Paxton’s character in Twister helped to make meteorology – and the hobby of storm chasing – cool.”
14. Paxton got his role in Aliens after he bumped into James Cameron and asked the director to write him a “good part”
Paxton features as Private Hudson in the 1986 film Aliens, providing much of the movie’s comic relief in the role.
But did you know that Paxton’s participation in the film happened almost completely by chance?
Paxton ran into his friend James Cameron just after he’d landed the role of director on the film.
Paxton then said to Cameron “I hope you write me a good part” – and Cameron did just that.
Paxton initially thought his audition was too over-the-top and he assumed he’d not got the role of Private Hudson.
Cameron, however, loved Paxton’s energy and enthusiasm and immediately signed him up for the role.
13. His first Hollywood job was working as a production assistant for $25 a day
Many actors only break into Hollywood after years and years of hard work – but Bill Paxton managed to get a job without too much trouble.
Speaking to Texas Monthly back in 2007, Paxton revealed that he enlisted the help of his father when it came to breaking into the industry.
“My very first job in Hollywood was for a man named Milan Herzog,” he said.
“I asked my dad, “Who do you know in Hollywood?” He wrote to Milan, and he got a letter from him saying, “Tell your son to go back to school.””
“My dad wrote him a second time, and Milan said, “Well, I can give him ten days’ work as a production assistant for 25 dollars a day.””
“My dad gave me a plane ticket and told me, “Look, get out there,”” he revealed.
12. He never thought he’d do TV before he read the pilot for Big Love
Speaking to Texas Monthly back in 2007, Paxton revealed that getting into TV “was the farthest thing from [his] mind” before he signed up for the HBO drama series Big Love.
“I was in preproduction to direct my first studio film, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and I got a call from my agent, Brian Swardstrom,” he recalled.
“He said there was a pilot they were going to shoot for HBO and that Playtone was involved.”
“That got my interest, because Playtone is Tom Hanks’ production company,” the actor went on to say.
“Then Brian said it was about polygamy, and I was like, ‘Oh, God, what the hell is this?’ […] Brian said, ‘Just read it.’
“I read it, and as soon as I finished reading it, I was on the phone to him saying, ‘How can I do this?’”
11. He’s the only actor to have been killed by a terminator, a xenomorph, and a predator
The Alien, Predator and Terminator film series are some of the most popular and acclaimed franchises in recent history.
Which is why it’s so impressive that Bill Paxton has featured in all three of those series.
Moreover, Paxton is one of only two actors who have appeared in all three series.
Lance Henriksen is the only other actor to have featured in the Alien, Predator, and Terminator franchises.
Both actors are also the only two actors to have been killed by a xenomorph, a predator and a terminator.
However, as Henriksen’s Aliens character Bishop technically isn’t human and therefore couldn’t ‘die,’ Paxton is arguably the only actor to have been bumped off by an alien, predator and terminator.
10. He was trained by an exhibition shooter for his role in Tombstone
For those that are unfamiliar, Thell Reed is an exhibition shooter who works as a movie consultant and stuntman.
Reed regularly competed in fast draw competitions which saw him garner attention and fame for his shooting skills.
His newfound celebrity resulted in him landing lucrative jobs as a consultant on movie sets.
Reed has trained actors including Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt in the past.
He also trained Bill Paxton for his role as Morgan Earp in the cult 1993 western Tombstone.
Reed also assisted Paxton’s co-stars Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell in getting up to speed with handling firearms.
9. He saw JFK on the day of his assassination
Bill Paxton was born in city of Fort Worth, Texas, and remained there for the whole of his childhood.
In November 1963, at the age of eight, he watched President John F Kennedy leave the Hotel Texas in Forth Worth.
This was shortly before the President embarked on his journey over to Dallas where he was assassinated.
Amazingly, there’s even photographic evidence of a young Paxton watching JFK leave the Hotel Texas.
Photos of the actor as a young boy being lifted onto a man’s shoulders are on display at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
Speaking at Texas Christian University about seeing JFK on that fateful day, Paxton said: “It was amazing to see President Kennedy, because I had mostly seen him on television in black and white, and there he was in living colour and I couldn’t believe how red his hair was. And he was in very good spirits.”
8. Public speaking gave him panic attacks
You’d think that most actors – given the nature of their job – would feel comfortable and confident speaking in public.
But not Bill Paxton. Apparently, despite his successful acting career, one of Paxton’s biggest fears was public speaking.
Speaking to People shortly before his death in 2017, Paxton revealed this secret fear of his.
“Every time I get in front of that camera I have a bit of a panic attack – or when I have to speak in front of a group of people,” he said.
He went on to reveal that he struggled to publicly thank everyone who worked on Training Day after filming wrapped.
“When we wrapped yesterday, I wanted to give a speech to the cast and crew and I felt myself getting very nervous.”
7. Jack Nicholson was his favourite actor
From Jack Torrance to Randle McMurphy, Jack Nicholson has played some compelling characters in his time.
His sheer talent and attention to detail when it comes to getting into character has not gone unnoticed, and many actors hold Nicholson in extremely high regard for this reason.
Bill Paxton was one of those actors who had a great deal of respect and adoration for Nicholson.
He spoke about his love for Nicholson in an interview with HuffPost in 2013, calling him his “favourite actor.”
“He was someone who not only would play a part to the hilt, he always, more often than not, played it with a relish that gave the audience just that little extra,” he said.
“That little extra enjoyment, no matter what he was doing,” he continued, singing Nicholson’s praises.
6. The press spread a rumour that Paxton insulted an ill Michael C Hall at the Golden Globes
Back in 2010, Paxton was accused of making a bitter comment after Michael C Hall won the award for Best Actor. Speaking to HuffPost in 2013, Paxton vehemently denied the allegations and explained his side of the story.
“I was at the Golden Globes with my daughter … and I was up for the award and Michael C. Hall was up for Dexter,” he began.
“And the day before he had announced that he was dealing with Hodgkins lymphoma. And I only knew Michael in passing.
“And when they called his name, I remember – my daughter is like 7 – I turned to the table and I remember saying, “We’ll get ’em next year.”
“The next morning, there’s all of this stuff on the internet that said somebody watching the broadcast read my lips and that I said to the table, ‘They played the cancer card.’”
“I was appalled that it would get back to Michael,” he said. “Even if he thought, What is this?, it’s horrible.”
5. His co-stars and friends called him Wild Bill
Apparently, Bill Paxton had an affectionately funny nickname bestowed on him by his colleagues and close friends.
He was commonly known amongst his closest companions as ‘Wild Bill’ due to his crazy sense of humour.
Paxton was even credited as ‘Wild Bill’ in his first small supporting role in The Lords of Discipline.
His jolly and goofy personality occasionally shone through in his performances on the big screen.
Paxton certainly put his comedic skills to use in Aliens, where he featured as braggart Private Hudson.
He also got up to some wild antics in Weird Science, where he played Chet Donnelly.
4. His final role was in the TV adaptation of Training Day
Sadly, Paxton passed away in 2017 after suffering a stroke following open-heart surgery.
As his death was unexpected, Paxton had some film and TV appearances that aired after he passed away.
His last official credit was in James Ponsoldt’s sci-fi drama The Circle, in which he starred alongside Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.
But Paxton’s final role was as Detective Frank Roarke in the TV adaptation of Training Day.
Only four episodes of the series had aired before Paxton died on February 25 2017.
The remainder of the series’ episodes were broadcast as scheduled but the series was then cancelled in May 2017 after Paxton’s passing.
3. His family filed a wrongful death suit after his passing
As aforementioned, Paxton tragically passed away in 2017 when he was just 61 years old.
Paxton’s family believe that the actor’s death was preventable and was actually caused by medical negligence.
The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit back in 2018, a year after Paxton passed away.
Paxton’s family alleged that his surgeon used “a high risk and unconventional surgical approach with which he lacked experience.”
They also alleged that the hospital and surgeon “misrepresented and/or concealed information relating to the risks of surgery.”
The family’s attorney Bruce Broillet said in a statement. “The surgeon’s actions resulted in this tragic and preventable death.”
2. He supported drug legalisation
A lot of famous people are hugely in favour of legalisation (actor Woody Harrelson, for one, is a very outspoken proponent).
Although Paxton wasn’t as outspoken as other celebrities who support legalisation, he certainly was in favour of it.
He revealed his feelings towards legalising drugs in an interview with HuffPost back in 2013.
“The drug war is bulls**t,” he said. “Drugs are here to stay. The absurdity of consensual crimes in a free society.”
“Yeah, OK, do you legalise pot? You legalise all of it, tax it, give people jobs, start social programs…”
“I just feel like enough is enough. Screw it,” he said, making plain his feelings on the matter.
1. James Cameron did not nickname Paxton ‘Knuckles’ following a bar fight
Bill Paxton’s IMDb page states that one of his nicknames is ‘Knuckles’ – but this isn’t strictly true.
James Cameron supposedly gave him the nickname after Paxton got into an altercation on a night out – but this was debunked by Paxton himself.
Paxton disproved the story on the record in an interview with HuffPost back in 2013.
“On the internet, on IMDB, they’ve got that my middle name as Archibald. I don’t have a middle name!” he began.
“They have another thing on there that Jim Cameron’s nickname for me is Knuckles,” he said.
“But he never called me ‘Knuckles’ in my life! It’s some stupid story that we were in a bar and I threatened some guy with brass knuckles. That’s like a fantasy world!” This fake fact has since been removed from IMDb.