From His Secret Passions to His Famous Roots: 13 Things You Never Knew About Bill Paxton
Bill Paxton's profile in the June 2007 issue of PEOPLE revealed quite a different side to the beloved actor
As one of Hollywood’s best-loved character actors, Bill Paxton — who died at the age of 61 over the weekend following complications from surgery — was a reliable supporting player throughout a wide range of feature films in the ’80s and ’90s. Mourned by fans and peers alike, Paxton was one of the only actors with the distinction of acting in the trilogy of “Big Bad” movies from the ’80s and ’90s — Aliens, Predator and The Terminator — and his scenery-chewing roles in movies like Weird Science and Near Dark made him a beloved presence across decades of cinema. (Paxton did eventually graduate to lead roles, including in Twister and HBO’s series Big Love.)
Here, enjoy some of the lesser-known facts behind one of Hollywood’s most reliable faces.
1. He actually admired his Big Love character.
Though he was married to one wife, Louise, 41, a homemaker, for 20 years, Paxton didn’t judge the devoutly religious polygamist he played from 2006 to 2011. “He has a strong moral code — he’s not sneaking around,” Paxton told PEOPLE in 2007. “[He and his three wives] are adults who’ve entered into a contract and all that entails: camaraderie, pettiness, joy, anxiety. They’re on a spiritual quest.”
2. Tom Hanks was his buddy.
The two not only kept in touch after co-starring in Apollo 13, but Hanks also served as an executive producer of Big Love. “We write each other letters,” Paxton told PEOPLE in 2007. “I love that I’m working for Tom again. [Apollo 13] forged an alliance.”
3. Paxton witnessed JFK’s final speech — in person.
An 8-year-old Paxton watched JFK address a crowd of thousands outside the hotel where he was staying in Dallas on the day he was assassinated. “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 color and I couldn’t believe how red his hair was,” Paxton said in a previous interview at Texas Christian University. “It was really just a euphoric crowd,” he added, explaining that he heard that the president had been killed at school later that day.
4. Art was a big part of his life. Really big.
His Ventura County home was filled with huge oil paintings of California streets and Buster Keaton portraits. The kitchen alone was a museum of crafts by his kids, James, 22, and Lydia, 19. For Paxton’s May 17 birthday, the whole family added to his gallery. “My wife drew a setting of [the park] where we first met, my daughter did a collage of her hand,” he recalled at the time. “And my son drew a jaguar that said, ‘You’re still the king of the jungle.’ ”
5. He built a tree house for his children.
Teaming up with a welder and a few carpenters, Paxton followed his “crazy plan” for a 14-ft.-high leafy hideaway (including a pulley system to bring up loot) for James, Lydia — and, sometimes, Dad. “It’s a wonderful place to meditate,” he said.
6. His parents taught him how to party.
His father, John, a retired lumber salesman turned actor, and his mother, Mary Lou, a homemaker, would send Paxton and his siblings with a nanny to a nearby motel whenever they threw festive bashes at their house in Fort Worth. Said Paxton: “My earliest memory of my mother is in a ball gown. I could smell the perfume, cigarettes and wine. It was this ambrosia kind of smell.”
7. The man could decorate.
“I know a lot about periods of furniture, drapery and wallpaper,” said Paxton. “My dad was into architecture. He took me to art exhibits and furniture factories — not football and basketball games.”
8. He paid his dues.
Before acting success, his odd jobs included modeling for a mannequin mold, set dressing on B-movies like 1981’s Galaxy of Terror — and stuffing Jane Fonda workout tapes into envelopes.
9. His dad played the butler in all three Spider-Man films.
When his father, John, decided to attend acting school, “I said, ‘Don’t do this to yourself,’ ” Paxton joked. But at the Spider-Man 3 premiere, Paxton admitted, “I got teary-eyed. It’s given my father a new lease on life.”
10. He had a musical side.
Paxton was one-half of the 1980s New Wave group Martini Ranch, signed to Sire/Warner Bros. at one point. The video above was directed by a guy whose name you might recognize: James Cameron.
11. He caddied for golf royalty.
Paxton’s father belonged to the same golf club as legend Ben Hogan. Paxton got to know the famous golfer and even caddied for him a few times in Fort Worth, Texas.
12. And he’s related to Texas royalty.
Before playing former Texas governor and state legend Sam Houston in the History Channel’s Texas Rising, Paxton had heard inklings he was related to the man. He finally decided to get it verified, and discovered that “Sam Houston and I share common grandparents, going back six generations. His mother would be a great-aunt of mine. That makes Sam Houston and me second cousins four times removed.”
13. He was one of Hollywood’s most famous also-rans.
Paxton was reportedly in the running for the lead roles in Jumanji, Darkman, The Rocketeer, the 1998 remake of Godzilla and Cocoon. Perhaps apocryphally, he was also almost cast as Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, the role that eventually went to Jeff Goldblum.