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Bill Paxton, Beloved Character Actor, Has Died

Last night it seemed like a hoax: actor Xander Berkeley Tweeted out word of Bill Paxton‘s death, but there was no media corroboration, and he deleted his Tweet soon thereafter. It’s apparent now that he simply jumped the gun on the public announcement–this morning, People magazine confirms that Paxton has passed due to complications from surgery, at the age of 61.

The prolific character actor and occasional lead is probably best known to the world as Brock Lovett, the explorer who meets the aging Rose (Gloria Stuart) in Titanic, on a quest to find the Heart of the Ocean. But to most of us, his persona codified in some earlier James Cameron movies: first as the punk in Griffith Park who calls out the Terminator, then as Private Hudson in Aliens, whose terrified reactions most mirrored our own as the audience; the signature line that he improvised, “Game over, man!” was undoubtedly one that went through your head upon reading this. It resulted in a particularly memorable action figure by NECA:

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One of his earliest roles came in a music video he also directed. It’s one you all know, but you may not have known it was him.

“Eat them up, yum!” is not a bad comment on all his delicious roles over a 42-year career. Stripes, Weird Science, Near Dark, Streets of Fire, and Commando are all ’80s classics (cult or otherwise); Predator 2, Tresspass, Boxing Helena, Tombstone, Apollo 13, and A Simple Plan are all unforgettable to anyone who’s seen them. Twister may not be everyone’s all-time favorite, but it was an action blockbuster in its time that finally had the confidence to make him the lead, and he’s the reason many of us never got bored with that film.

Aside from movies, the TV shows he’s been on play like a highlight reel: Miami Vice, Tales From the Crypt, Frasier, Agents of SHIELD… he was of course the star of Big Love, Texas Rising, and most recently Training Day, which saw him take on the unenviable task of succeeding Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning performance. Most people in that situation would be crucified by the public, but we all love Paxton so much, the attitude was more like, “Why the hell not? Give him a shot.”

“Fish Heads” aside, his directorial career was short but sweet, consisting of two features: the Shia LaBeouf golf movie The Greatest Game Ever Played, and Frailty, a thriller in which Paxton himself plays a Christian serial killer who believes the people he’s murdering are demons. The latter in particular showed a lot of potential, but he rarely stopped working as an actor long enough to follow it up.

In one of his more unique credits, he’s a playable character in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare‘s Exo Zombies mode.

In addition to the Nerdist-sponsored conversation with Carrie Keagan (featured above) from 2013, Paxton was on our “Chewin’ It” podcast the same year, in a two-part interview with Kevin and Steve. He was exactly what you’d expect from his more affable, less Frailty-like roles.

Paxton’s chief appeal, I think, was that because he could play the “regular guy” so well, he was able to subvert that when needed: the regular guy at the end of his rope, the loving father who snapped, the likable dude who got ignored one too many times. That was as a more mature adult, at least; in his younger years, he excelled at being the doofus antagonist, most notably in Weird Science. Whenever you saw him in a movie, you could have faith that at least his scenes would be enjoyable.

Paxton’s final film, a sci-fi thriller called The Circle, opens in April, and will see him acting alongside Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, John Boyega, and Patton Oswalt. Yet somehow I was looking forward to his parts the most. He may rarely have been top-billed, but he was the definitive character actor in three out of his four decades of work. With so many great, good, and good-bad titles in his resume, it’s fair to say his fandom will go on…and it will never, truly, be game over.

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