I could be wrong on this, as I’ve only seen one of the movies recently and haven’t seen one of them at all, but I’m pretty sure Bill Paxton holds the distinction of having been killed by a Xenomorph, a Terminator, and a Predator. Only he and Lance Henrikson have been in all three franchises, which is its own distinction. Really, though, his credits are were all over the place, from Boxing Helena to Tombstone to Twister, and it’s kind of a Patrick Swayze situation that everyone is quoting a single role and I am left quoting something else entirely.
Actually, the earliest exposure the American public had to Bill Paxton was that, as a child, his father took him to the Hotel Texas on November 22, 1963, so he could see Kennedy. Someone held him up so he could see, and pictures of that are in the Sixth Floor Museum. Probably, I will grant you, mostly because that random child from Fort Worth grew up to be an Emmy nominee and a SAG Award winner, but still. There he was. Eventually, he would become one of those actors who was just kind of everywhere.
And was not Bill Pullman. I think the running joke there came mostly because of the similar names, but I’ve been aware of it as an idea, that the two are indistinguishable, for at least ten years now. This was, however, long after I became aware of Paxton as an actor. I think I came late to familiarity with him; as it happens, I still haven’t seen Weird Science and therefore do not think of him as Chet. I did see the first Terminator long about the time the second one came out, but where I think of him is as Morgan Earp from Tombstone.
Morgan is the youngest Earp brother, the one to be protected—and therefore, naturally, the one to die. (Yes, all right, they’re also working with the historical record there, but it works from a narrative perspective as well.) I don’t know if the film’s giving him an interest in spiritualism is historically accurate, but it is an interesting place for the character to go and something that keeps coming to mind for me as I write—in the end, spiritualism is no comfort to him. There is no light.
For us, I think, the light comes when we look back. Paxton had a fine career. Apollo 13. Big Love, which I wore out on but not because of him. A Simple Plan. Nightcrawler. “Fish Heads.” He was not a particularly flashy actor, but that was his stock in trade. And, yes, he’s another Corman alum, having worked as a set dresser for New World Pictures. People keep quoting “Game over, man!” But there was more to Bill Paxton than that.