Actor Bill Paxton has died as a result of complications from heart surgery.
The 61-year-old had big roles in several blockbusters, including Titanic, Apollo 13, Twister, and Aliens.
“Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable," his family said in a statement. "We ask to please respect the family’s wish for privacy as they mourn the loss of their adored husband and father.”
He also starred in the TV show Training Day and in the HBO series Big Love, in which he played the father in a Mormon polygamous family.
In 1996, his costar in Twister, Helen Hunt, talked about their pairing in the film during an interview with Georgia Straight publisher Dan McLeod.
Hunt played a storm chaser and Paxton played a meteorologist who's about to be her ex-husband as they encounter a huge storm. In some respects, the film presaged some of the extreme weather events that have become more commonplace as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
“I knew it was mostly about tornadoes,” Hunt said at the time, “but it wasn’t as if Bill’s character and my character just flirt and kiss at the end. Because when the movie begins, these two people want to strangle each other, and sleep together, and get remarried, and kill each other, all at the same time. They have all this history together. Personally, I think it’s probably a sign of real love if once in a while you want to kill each other in a relationship. And I knew that any movie that starts with a relationship like that, you can’t escape it being highly human.”
The director of Twister, Jan de Bont, told McLeod that he wanted Paxton and Hunt in the film from the very beginning.
"When I read a screenplay for the first time, if I can’t imagine an actor with it, I cannot enjoy the screenplay," De Bont said in 1996. "If I can’t see a persona in the character on the page, there is no life to it. Once I start imagining a particular actor, it is a movie already. So when I was reading it, I saw Helen and Bill there."
The film also was ahead of its time in using visual effects, which have become commonplace in the era of digital media.
"There are over 300 special effects shots, over 22 minutes worth," De Bont revealed. "Not one of the big tornadoes is real and quite often the houses are not real. The flying cow is not real. But what is so fantastic is that the people who animate these shots have become artists. We don’t use technicians for this digital technology, we have to use painters. The people who operate those machines come from art schools; they don’t come from computer schools. That’s why I think digital technology will absolutely enhance moviemaking, because it just adds another layer of creativity to it. Those people are incredible artists. The final shot, which looks so real and is one of the most beautiful shots in the movie—that shot is made out of 13 million particles that are all manipulated at the same time. And we can’t tell the difference."
So how many houses were destroyed? According to de Bont, the producers bought the town of Wakita, Oklahoma, and destroyed six to eight blocks.
"It wasn’t that expensive, really," he said. "About $7,000 to $10,000 a house, and they were very happy to sell it to us. They made money out of it and we had a town to destroy."
Paxton was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and attended Arlington Heights secondary school, which also counts Lee Harvey Oswald among its alumni.
At the age of eight, Paxton was in the crowd waving at then U.S. president John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, which is the day he was assassinated. A photo of the young Paxton on that day is among the exhibits in the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
Paxton appeared in a blue spiky hairdo and spoke the first line in The Terminator, which, like Titanic, was directed by James Cameron.
The director of The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon, wanted to cast Paxton in the lead role but he had already signed for Big Love. The latter film's executive producer was Tom Hanks who was hired as the lead in The Da Vinci Code.