The iconic dramatist Konstantin Stanislavski was often quoted as saying, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
Bill Paxton, a beloved character actor who left an indelible mark on some of the biggest Hollywood movies of the past four decades, embodied that ethos in every moment on screen.
Paxton died on Saturday of complications from surgery, his family said in a statement. He was 61.
The Fort Worth, Texas, native resonated on the big and small screens, in projects ranging from “Aliens” to “True Lies,” from “Apollo 13” to HBO’s “Big Love,” because he always seemed fully engaged and invested in his characters.
Year after year, he demonstrated that same level of indefatigable commitment, to playing every scene with his own unique spin and personality, whether he starred in a movie or show or merely showed up for a moment or two.
“Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable,” his family said in the statement.
Paxton first came to prominence with a trifecta of popular 1980s projects: “The Terminator,” in which he played a punk gang member who threatens Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg; “Weird Science,” the John Hughes film, as a bullying older brother; and as a fearful technician in “Aliens.” He remained closely associated with the latter film thanks to his “Game over, man” catchphrase for the rest of his career.
He reached his Hollywood summit during the 1990s. Paxton stood out in blockbusters like “True Lies,” where his perverted used car salesman concocts an elaborate seduction scheme for Jamie Lee Curtis; as a key part of the ensemble in “Apollo 13,” as astronaut Fred Haise opposite Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon; as the leading man in “Twister,” the summer movie sensation about storm chasers; and, finally, as a treasure hunter in “Titanic,” his final collaboration with James Cameron.
He routinely stole scenes by being unafraid to put himself out there, to make weird and outlandish choices and to apply the sorts of affectations that might have scared away other actors. He could also play it straight with the best of them — in movies like “A Simple Plan,” the Sam Raimi noir, and as the father and husband at the center of the acclaimed “Big Love,” HBO’s drama about Mormon polygamists.
Through it all, he grabbed your attention the instant he turned up, providing an injection of charisma and feeling into even the most mundane of endeavors. If Bill Paxton was in a movie or on a show, it meant something.
Paxton, survived by his wife Louise Newberry and children James and Lydia, was also widely known as one of the nicest people in the business. Stories of his kindness poured in across social media on Sunday.
Perhaps Schwarzenegger, Paxton’s frequent co-star, said it best:
“Bill Paxton could play any role, but he was best at being Bill — a great human being with a huge heart.”