Brow Beat

Aliens, Big Love Actor Bill Paxton Is Dead at 61

Paxton was so good at playing ordinary it was easy to overlook what a fascinating life he led.

Valercy Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Industry trade papers are reporting the death of veteran actor Bill Paxton at age 61, due to complications from surgery.

Paxton, whose most recent project was the CBS drama Training Day, first made his mark in the mid-1980s, with small but indelible roles in movies like Aliens and Weird Science. His roles in movies like Twister, Apollo 13, and Titanic could have made him a leading man, but he took a turn toward more subdued projects like A Simple Plan, opting for quality over quantity and character over stardom.

Paxton exceled at playing ordinary joes with unexpected, sometimes surprising depths, a skill that reached its apex with the HBO series Big Love, in which he played a genial, easygoing Mormon who happened to be the head of a polygamist household. It’s hard to think of another actor who could have made that arrangement feel both decent and unnerving at the same time, or so deftly embodied the TV patriarch while simultaeously turning the archetype inside-out.

Paxton was so good at playing ordinary, in fact, that it was easy to think that he was ordinary himself. But if his square jaw and Texas twang made him a snug fit for playing grunts and rednecks, he had a far more diverse history than his onscreen roles suggested: He played in a New Wave band called Martini Ranch, was tight with Sire Records’ legendary Seymour Stein, and directed the video for the cult classic novelty song “Fish Heads.” He also directed two feature films: 2001’s Frailty and 2005’s The Greatest Game Ever Played.

Paxton will also be seen in the movie The Circle, which is scheduled to be released on April 28. A representative for Paxton’s family released this statement:

It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery. A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker. Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable. We ask to please respect the family’s wish for privacy as they mourn the loss of their adored husband and father.