Bill Paxton died Saturday of complications from surgery at age 61. The Fort Worth-Texas native appeared in every man of a certain age’s top five favorite movies including: The Terminator (1984), Weird Science (1985), Aliens (1986), Predator 2 (1990), True Lies (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Twister (1996), and Titanic (1997).
I cannot understate the loss of Bill Paxton. He was my North Star, my friend when I had none. The entire spectrum of my somehow long-abandoned DVD collection. My copy of Twister, including commentary track, currently adorns the back of some used bin with yellow $2.99 tag on it, lost like a love note never sent.
His roles furnished the sum total of my personal dialogue from ages 12 to 32.
Paxton on screen a reflection of my at once neurotic, bullying, kind, generous and all the way back to neurotic alter-ego. A better-looking yet slightly more off kilter version of my own reflection. A living, spouting, whining and shouting expository version of my rapid-fire shortcomings.
A Bill Paxton role, verily, touched upon all the insecurities. We laughed at him because he was us, taller and with slightly better hair. Confused, worried, empty inside most of the time — in constant motion with luxury of stopping once in awhile only to let the fear take hold.
His characters were inner-dialogue-meets-untenable-circumstance and he didn’t always (he hardly ever) come out on top. He also never quite looked right in a tux.
We are all Bill Paxton.
Private Hudson, the constantly freaking out naysaying soldier in Aliens who just happens to wear on his sleeve the notion that this isn’t going to end well and when it doesn’t end well, instead of saying “I told you so” he makes “Game over, man” the mantra of all who face impossible odds, and plausibly lose.
Simon, the shifty mustache-and-turtleneck-wearing used car salesman in True Lies, who only is looking for a little excitement in a briefcase and ends up being suspended on the edge of a dam dangling above certain peril with an already-given-up lament so profound he is spared.
Brock Lovett, the shaggy blonde-tipped treasure seeker with the porn star name in Titanic. The man who leveraged his career and spent his life’s fortune hunting an illusory diamond while not realizing it was under his nose the entire time.
Bill Henrickson, the maligned Utah hardware store magnate Mormon husband of a trio of wives in suburban Salt Lake purgatory holding together his flock with the barely-there contempt of all aggrieved but still-trying-to-do-the-right-thing fathers everywhere.
Fred Haise, the all-but-forgotten Apollo 13 Lunar Module pilot who seems the unwitting scapegoat of a mission gone terribly wrong, only to be saved by Tom Hanks.
Jack Belston, the merry prankster in constant and varied stages of heartbreak in Indian Summer. And if you haven’t seen Indian Summer (or seen it lately) cue it up this evening.
And, of course, Chet.
Paxton, a Texan, an every man, a guy everyone who worked with him said was a genuinely nice man, nice to be around and a punishingly dedicated worker, put his insecurities on screen for all to see. It didn’t make him relatable as much as it made us self-aware.
We really, after all, are all a bunch of Bill Paxton characters walking around, some great schemes traveling through our minds, some grand plan to make life better, faster/hotter a little more bearable, but they all come crashing upon us in the form of debt and job struggle and relationships turning sour. And yet, we keep that optimistic gleam, that half-cocked grin, the one that says, “I know this ain’t gonna end well, but I’m going to keep trying till it does.”
Until we’re forced to admit defeat:
To me, Paxton’s constant expression of the moment all is lost, and being forced to be OK with it, wasn’t acting. His work was and always will be some of the best depictions of actual life on screen — and the highest form of art.