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Things You Didn't Know About Bill Paxton

There are a lot of famous faces in Hollywood, but there are some that just show up in so many iconic movies that it's impossible to imagine a Hollywood without them. Bill Paxton is one of those actors, and he's been a beloved part of movies and television for decades. He's been a part of the music scene as well. And comics? His influence is there, too. Bill Paxton might be best known for movies like Aliens, but he's touched much, much more than most people realize.

The strange origin story of Parkland

Parkland is a 2013 film that tells the story of the aftermath of JFK's assassination in Dallas in 1963. It's a retelling that's grounded in history rather than conspiracy, and it's a film that only happened because of a family trip Bill Paxton took 40 years prior.

Paxton, born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, was eight years old when JFK spoke to the crowd in Dallas on the day he was shot and killed. When Paxton himself later spoke at Texas Christian University about being in that crowd, he 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 color and I couldn't believe how red his hair was. And he was in very good spirits. He made a joke about Jackie not being there because she took a little bit longer to get ready, but she looked a lot better."

He was back at school by the time the nation got the news that the president had been killed, and it wasn't until 2007 that Paxton saw the photos that gave him the idea that would become Parkland. While visiting the Sixth Floor Museum of Kennedy history, he saw photos of that speech and, more than that, he saw himself looking over the heads of the crowd from his vantage point atop a set of sturdy shoulders that belonged to a man he'd just met.

Paxton walked away from the museum with two photos, one of him smiling as Kennedy took the stage, and the other of him beaming and clapping along with the crowd. He also bought a book called Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and it was the contents of that book that made it to the big screen in Parkland, named for the hospital Kennedy was rushed to.

He dabbled in directing music videos

"Fish Heads" is one of those songs that everyone knows, even if they don't know it by name. It was written by Robert Haimer and Bill Mumy (of Lost in Space fame), and it was a huge hit thanks to Dr. Demento. The video is incredibly weird, for which we have Bill Paxton to thank. After all, he directed it.

When he spoke with Bullz-Eye in 2010, Paxton said that he had been making short films at the time he met Bill Mumy through Sissy Spacek. That was around 1980, and from start to finish, the video cost $2,000 to make. According to Bill Mumy, Paxton was involved with every bit of it, even picking out the fish heads and storing them in his freezer while shooting...until they disintegrated and needed to be replaced. Paxton then pitched the video to Saturday Night Live and it got even more popular, but it wasn't until 1993 that Rolling Stone named it one of the Top 100 music videos of all time.

Paxton went behind the camera for other videos, too, helming the videos for Limp Bizkit's 2003 single "Eat You Alive," New Order's 1987 song "Touched By the Hand of God," and Pat Benatar's 1982 hit "Shadows of the Night."

He almost passed on Aliens

Bill Paxton is best known for his iconic, monster-fighting roles, but one of them was incredibly close to not happening.

Paxton had rented an apartment in London for a few weeks while he was in England to audition for Aliens, but after his reading at Pinewood Studios, he was convinced that he'd blown his chances at the role by overdoing it when he was instructed to pretend a cardboard tube was a rifle, and climb all over the casting director's furniture. The audition ended, weeks went by, and when he didn't hear anything, he was sure that he'd missed out completely.

To fill the gap, Paxton entered negotiations to star in something that couldn't have been more different: Police Academy 2. Paxton dragged his feet, though, as signing the deal meant that he was signing up to be in future films, too, and that would have limited any other opportunities. He was still dragging his feet when James Cameron called and offered him the part of Private Hudson. Paxton took it for half the pay Police Academy had been offering him. He told The A.V. Club, "[...] one thing I learned very early on is that you take the jobs that you can get with the good directors. I've never really been after the money. I probably could've made more money out here if I was really all about the money, but I actually got into this field in a vocational way. I loved filmmaking. I loved photography, I loved acting, so God, I just kind of gravitated toward it."

He was half of a 1980s new wave band

In 1988, a little band called Martini Ranch released their 10-track album Holy Cow. It might have faded into relative obscurity today, but at the time, the album was full of big, big names — including Bill Paxton, who was exactly one half of the duo that made up Martini Ranch.

With actors and artists like Alan Myers and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, and Judge Reinhold popping up on the album, it's a shame that it didn't get carried onto a second installment. It did, however, spawn some awesomely '80s music videos, including the seven-minute-long Western epic for "Reach," directed by none other than James Cameron.

He worked for Roger Corman

Roger Corman is one of the most prolific behind-the-scenes filmmakers in Hollywood history, with more than 400 movies to his name (most with names like The Monster From the Ocean Floor, Attack of the Giant Leeches, and The Little Shop of Horrors). Corman gave a number of Hollywood greats the chance to get their foot in the door, and in 1974 he hired a young Bill Paxton as a set dresser.

At the same time, a young James Cameron was also working on the set of Corman's films, and the two struck up a friendship that would be the stuff of Hollywood legend. In a letter to Vanity Fair, Cameron wrote of Paxton's untimely death, "Bill leaves such a void. He and I were close friends for 36 years, since we met on the set of a Roger Corman ultra-low budget movie. He came in to work on the set, and I slapped a paint brush in his hand and pointed to a wall, saying, 'Paint that!'"

From set dresser to actor, it was Corman who gave Paxton his very first acting roles with bit parts in horror flicks like Galaxy of Terror. Once Cameron cast him in another bit part in The Terminator, there was no looking back.

He's related to his Texas Rising character

In the 2015 miniseries Texas Rising, Bill Paxton played the Lexington, Virginia-born Sam Houston. Houston was a brilliant military leader and has always been credited for his role in Texas history, and Paxton has said that he grew up hearing rumors that he was somehow related to the Texan hero. When he started doing background research on Houston for his role, he found out that the claim was actually true.

Houston's mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Paxton, and she was also from Lexington, Virginia. Before moving to Texas, Paxton's father's family also hailed from Lexington. When Paxton started laying out the family tree, he found that, six generations back, he shared a set a grandparents with Houston, making them second cousins, four times removed.

When the LA Times asked him how it felt to be playing the man he was related to, he answered, "It felt like destiny."

He had a deep love for the Alamo

Bill Paxton has been in a huge number of movies and television shows, but it's clear that his role in Texas Rising was fulfilling something of a lifelong dream. According to him, he had originally tried to get an audition in 2004's The Alamo, and as a Texas native, he had always been fascinated with the story of that particular piece of American history.

Discussing the show, Paxton recounted the time his father took him and his brother to see the Alamo, and it captured his imagination. According to him, "I was never a super Texan. I was always proud to be from there. I got to go to school for a couple of months on a foreign exchange program when I was 17 to London. One thing I noted when Brits would ask me where I was from and I said, 'Texas,' they would kind of light up. It did have this mythic Western thing about it."

Even though he grew up in the suburbs of Fort Worth, he did spend his summers horseback riding — and racing — at Teton Valley Camp in Wyoming, and that made him at least comfortable enough in the saddle that he could fake the rest of it. Paxton added, "I never wrapped myself in the flag, but I am really proud to have been a part of this thing."

He also lent his support to fundraising for preservation attempts at the Alamo, appearing on the red carpet at a sneak-peek showing of Texas Rising for charity.

He championed the development of a graphic novel

When writer John McLaughlin sent Bill Paxton a screenplay, he probably didn't expect it to go in the direction that it did. The screenplay was called Seven Holes for Air, and it's the story of the stereotypical tough guy facing his own mortality. McLaughlin thought Paxton would be perfect to play the lead role, and while Paxton's plate was full with other projects, he fell in love with the story. In most cases the entire thing would have ended there — or at least gotten handed off to someone else — but Paxton not only suggested that they turn it into a graphic novel, he stayed attached to the project.

Paxton went on to produce the graphic novel and promoted the work himself at the New York Comic Con in 2012. When asked about why he had taken the project to heart, Paxton said, "I just loved the screenplay and I eventually hope to turn it into a movie, but, if that doesn't happen, I love the story so much I wanted it to exist in some level so people could buy it and enjoy it like I enjoyed it."

He hated the end of Big Love

Polygamist Bill Henrickson was perhaps one of the most polarizing of Bill Paxton's major roles, but creators, writers, and real-life couple Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen made it clear that the show wasn't meant to shock; it was meant to explore the idea of just what "family" was. When the show's run came to an end, they went out with a bang — literally.

(Spoilers ahead!)

In an interview with NPR, the creators said that when they told Paxton that his character was going to be shot to death, Paxton immediately resented the idea. "It's not how he envisioned the end of his character's journey nor the end of the series," Olsen said. "And he just had a big problem with it — I think he had a vested relationship with the character of Bill Henrickson, and he feels, rightfully so, that he has husbanded that character for five years, and it hurt him to know that the character was going to die."

Olsen said that Paxton was a little more open to the idea after a few weeks, but in 2012, Paxton gave an interview to Huffington Post and admitted that, even long after the finale aired, he still wasn't sold on the decision.

"I'm still a little unreconciled, but maybe it's because I was very fond of Bill Henrickson," he said. "I think at the end of the day, I have to be objective and say they ended it right. Subjectively, as Bill Henrickson, I think I got a raw deal, but look, I'd sign up with them again if they came to me with another series. I would do it."

He'd been shopping a Twister sequel

In a career full of iconic movies, everyone knows Twister. Bill Paxton never forgot it, either, and in 2010 he was actively meeting with studios and writers to push the idea of a sequel.

According to Paxton, the idea came when he and fellow Twister star Scott Thomson were on their way through the Ozarks. They spend the night there and took the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of one of the most famous tornadoes of the Midwest: the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which killed around 700 people. After coming up with the bare bones of an idea for a sequel, Paxton met with studios and writer Kathleen Kennedy and pitched the idea of using 3-D technology to take the whole thing to the next level.

While he said that he was happy with the way the original Twister came out, he also said, "When I researched the first film when I was just getting ready to do it, I just found so much stuff. Ultimately, I was happy with Twister, but I also had thought that it could've gotten a little deeper into it." While he was completely on board, he added that, ultimately, the entire thing was hinging on Steven Spielberg and the studios.

He made some eerie comments about the death of a friend

For decades, Bill Paxton was a familiar face that popped up in seemingly countless movies and television shows. When his February 2017 death was announced, it shocked the world that Hollywood had lost such a pillar at only 61 years old. The official statement from his family said simply, "It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery."

Sometimes, news like this puts previous comments in a whole new light. In 2012, Paxton chatted with The A.V. Club about his various roles, and during the interview he mentioned his old friend Luke Askew. Paxton said, "He just passed about six weeks ago. I was really upset about that. Hell of a nice guy. He contracted an infection at a hospital, and that's what killed him. So God, whatever you do, don't go to a hospital."