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Bill Paxton, ‘Titanic’ and ‘Big Love’ Star, Dies at 61

Bill Paxton, the versatile actor who appeared in films including “Aliens” and “Titanic” and played a polygamist on HBO’s “Big Love,” died Saturday from complications following heart surgery. He was 61.

A representative for his family released a statement saying, “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”

With a Texas twang and grizzled visage, Paxton often found himself playing military men and cowboys. He was closely associated with James Cameron, playing a punk leader in “The Terminator,” as well as an ill-fated soldier in “Aliens,” a venal car dealer in “True Lies” and a treasure hunter in “Titanic.”

Paxton earned an Emmy nomination for the 2012 miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys,” and was starring as a morally ambiguous detective in the CBS series “Training Day” at the time of his death. Production on the show wrapped back in December, and all 13 episodes of the midseason show’s order have been filmed.

In a statement, CBS said, “We are shocked and deeply saddened this morning by the news of Bill Paxton’s passing. Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work. All of us here offer our deepest sympathy to his wife, Louise, and his two children.”

Paxton anchored a few films, portraying a tornado-chasing scientist in the box office smash “Twister” (1996), and a wildlife refuge director in the flop, “Mighty Joe Young” (1998).  In most movies, Paxton cut a morally upright figure, the character actor equivalent of a Kevin Costner or Gary Cooper. But he earned the best reviews of his career for roles that upended his persona. He was gripping as a family man trying to hide stolen money in Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” (1998), and similarly effective playing against type as an ethically compromised lawman in his first major role, Carl Franklin’s “One False Move” (1992).

He’s also remembered for his roles in “Apollo 13,” “Tombstone” and as older brother Chet in “Weird Science.”

On the small screen, Paxton played a wife-juggling entrepreneur on “Big Love,” who is haunted by his upbringing in a polygamist Mormon family.

HBO released a statement, saying “We are extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Bill Paxton.’Big Love’ was a seminal series for HBO for many years due to Bill’s extraordinary talent and grace. Offscreen, he was as warm, smart and fun as one could be. A true friend to so many at HBO. He will be greatly missed.”

“Big Love” lasted five seasons, earning three Golden Globe nominations for Paxton. In blunt fashion, Paxton publicly disagreed with the violent way the show ended, decrying its lack of ambiguity.

“It was a great show, it was a landmark show, and it ran its course,” he said in a 2012 interview with Screen Anarchy.  “Five years was a great run, and it had to end somehow, and it ended with a bang, instead of a whimper.”

Paxton earned critical acclaim for “Frailty,” a horror film he made his directorial debut with and starred in as a father beset by demonic visions. In a four-star review, Roger Ebert wrote, “Perhaps only a first-time director, an actor who does not depend on directing for his next job, would have had the nerve to make this movie. It is uncompromised.”

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Paxton went to Hollywood when he was 18, and found work as a set dresser for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, working on films like “Big Bad Mama” and “Eat My Dust.” His first acting role was a small part in Jonathan Demme’s “Crazy Mama” for Corman. Paxton then studied acting in New York under Stella Adler, and made films for “Saturday Night Live” like “Fish Heads,” based on the popular novelty song.

Paxton was known as “wild Bill” for his on-set pranks. He is survived by his two children, James and Lydia Paxton, and his wife Louise Newbury.

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