Bill Paxton is that guy you’ve seen in a hundred movies, but somehow always manage to confuse with Bill Pullman. One of them gave an incredible speech in “Independence Day” (Pullman) – the other played characters that were sometimes cringeworthy, like the wannabe-spy car salesman wooing people’s wives in “True Lies” (Paxton), but for guys like me that grew up in the 80s and 90s – Bill Paxton was an important part of some of the greatest movies of our childhoods. His untimely death over this last weekend is a loss felt not only by an adult awareness that we won’t see him playing roles like the CIA agent in underappreciated flicks like “2 Guns” anymore, but by the inner child in us that keeps movies like “Aliens” playing with common frequency in my house.
Paxton played the role of Private Hudson in “Aliens” – one of my favorite movies of all time. Hudson was a Colonial Marine, which is the coolest sounding space-based alteration of an existing branch of the American armed services you’re likely to come across. In the movie, which Paxton received a Saturn Award for best supporting actor for, Paxton plays a role familiar to each of us that have spent some time uniform: that guy in your platoon with a big mouth that we all still like for some reason.
“I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do not wanna f*ck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you!” Private Hudson announced in what was practically a recreation of a conversation I once saw a Lance Corporal have with a journalist. “Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phased plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”
In “Apollo 13″ Paxton played Fred Haise, the real life fighter pilot turned astronaut. Paxton, once again, gave a performance that could best be described as “guy you might know,” perfectly balancing Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon inside a closet-sized capsule for the better part of two and a half hours. Like Hudson, Haise isn’t often remembered as your favorite part of the movie – but the movie wouldn’t have been half as good without him.
Paxton, who stands as only one of two men who could brag about being killed by the predator, the terminator and an alien xenomorph, represented space Marines, CIA agents, astronauts and a hundred other roles guys like me grew up aspiring to fill – and while he wasn’t always the guy we wanted to be, sometimes it feels like we aren’t either.
Here’s to you, Mr. Paxton, for being a part of a dozen movies on my shelf, and countless nights spent with friends and family. Thanks for helping to shape my childhood ideals about military service, heroism in the face of danger, and, just as importantly, sometimes showing me who I never want to be. Thanks for being our outspoken Private, our cocky detective, and our angry platoon Sergeant.
And rest easy.
Image courtesy of Universal Studios
Video courtesy of YouTube