Paxton started acting in the 1970s in bit parts and supporting roles in TV and film. In 1984 he was cast in James Cameron's The Terminator as one of the punks the Terminator meets at the start of the film. Cameron was impressed by Paxton's personality and gave him a larger role in Aliens (1984) as Private Hudson. Hudson was given a slightly deranged personality and a series of lines which have become endlessly quoted by SF fans (including "Game over man!" and "Express elevator to hell, going down!"). Other roles at this time included Weird Science, Commando and Near Dark. He regrouped with James Cameron on both True Lies (1994) and Titanic (1997), playing the explorer searching the wreck of the vessel in the sequences set in the modern day. He later accompanied Cameron on several explorations of the real wreck and in 2003 narrated his documentary film on the subject, Ghosts of the Abyss.
Cameron has said the following on Paxton's passing:
I've been reeling from this for the past half hour, trying to wrap my mind and heart around it. Bill leaves such a void. He and I were close friends for 36 years, since we met on the set of a Roger Corman ultra-low budget movie. He came in to work on set, and I slapped a paint brush in his hand and pointed to a wall, saying "Paint that!" We quickly recognized the creative spark in each other and became fast friends. What followed was 36 years of making films together, helping develop each others projects, going on scuba diving trips together, watching each others kids growing up, even diving the Titanic wreck together in Russian subs. It was a friendship of laughter, adventure, love of cinema, and mutual respect. Bill wrote beautiful heartfelt and thoughtful letters, an anachronism in this age of digital shorthand. He took good care of his relationships with people, always caring and present for others. He was a good man, a great actor, and a creative dynamo. I hope that amid the gaudy din of Oscar night, people will take a moment to remember this wonderful man, not just for all the hours of joy he brought to us with his vivid screen presence, but for the great human that he was.
The world is a lesser place for his passing, and I will profoundly miss him.
Paxton's other film credits include Twister, Apollo 13, Mighty Joe Young, Spy Kids 2 and 3, Thunderbirds (as Jeff Tracy) and Edge of Tomorrow, as well as two critically-acclaimed collaborations with Billy Bob Thornton, in One False Move and A Simple Plan. Famously, his role and demise in Predator 2 makes him the only actor to have been killed by an Alien, a Predator and a Terminator (Lance Henriksen is sometimes cited, but Bishop survived the attack by the Alien Queen in Aliens, albeit in an extremely damaged state).
Like many 1980s film actors, Paxton found a new lease of life in his career by switching to television in the 2000s. From 2006 to 2011 he starred in the lead role on HBO's Big Love, followed by a lead role on the History Channel mini-series Hatfields and McCoys, opposite Kevin Costner. For this role Paxton won an Emmy. In 2014 he starred as the recurring villain John Garrett on Agents of SHIELD. Paxton was cast last year in the TV series Training Day in the lead role: the show only began airing a few weeks ago, and its future is now in doubt.
Bill Paxton was a talented performer, offering excellent (and often scene-stealing) support in films like Aliens whilst also making a very solid lead in films such as One False Move. He will be missed.