The brilliant actor Bill Paxton died on Saturday at the age of 61, after what several outlets have reported was a stroke following scheduled heart surgery. This is awful. He was a goddamn gem of a screen actor, and he has left the world so much poorer now that he won’t be boasting or grinning or melting down or flipping out onscreen in movies and TV shows anymore.
I won’t claim to have watched all the many dozens of films Paxton appeared in over the course of over 40 years in the filmmaking industry, but I feel confident asserting that no minute of any of those movies lacked for something weird and fun to watch whenever Bill Paxton’s face was on the screen. His specialty was the cocky macho doofus. No one has ever done Cocky Macho Doofus better than Bill Paxton. The trick, I think, was the “doofus” part: His performances seemed suffused with the understanding that the swaggering jock types he played never are more than a couple minor wrong turns away from completely unraveling and wetting themselves, and he seemed to relish portraying that part at least as much as the bluster and bravado that preceded it. In any case, he somehow made both look fun as hell.
Still, you don’t have to be, or care about portrayals of, the swaggering jock type to appreciate and identify with the single most relatable moment in the history of film, which Paxton delivers in 1986's Aliens, the James Cameron-directed sequel to 1979's Alien. If you haven’t seen it, first of all go watch it literally right this minute, drop everything and go rent it from Amazon or find it on Netflix or whatever, right now; it’s quite possibly the best science-fiction movie ever made and the best action movie ever made. But also, let’s set the stage a little bit.
The characters, including Sigourney Weaver’s haunted Ellen Ripley and Paxton’s cocky shit-talking Private Hudson, have just narrowly escaped an ambush by the titular monsters that claimed the lives of several of their friends and comrades-in-arms. Out on the surface of remote, barren exomoon LV-426, they call for a rescue from their remaining mates... but oh no! An alien stowaway kills the crew of the rescue ship mid-flight, and it falls down upon Ripley, Hudson, and company in a spectacular crash that nearly kills them. They are having an extremely bad time right now.
As the dust clears, Private Hudson emerges from the smoke, his face neatly expressing... well, basically the entirety of the human condition. What it is to be a human being. Ladies and gentlemen, today and every day but especially today, it extremely me:
Goodbye, Private Hudson. We’re in some real pretty shit now, man.