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Bill Paxton, Prolific Actor And Star Of 'Titanic' And 'Apollo 13,' Dies At 61

Bill Paxton attends the People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles last month.
Emma McIntyre
Getty Images for People's Choice Awards
Bill Paxton attends the People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles last month.

Updated at 12:38 p.m. ET

Bill Paxton, prolific actor and big-screen fixture for decades, has died at the age of 61. In a statement released to media outlets Sunday, a family representative says Paxton died of complications from surgery.

"A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker," the statement reads.

"Bill's passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable."

Paxton was perhaps best known for his marquee roles in Hollywood blockbusters. From below the sea, as in Titanic, to out of this world, as in Aliens and Apollo 13, Paxton starred in dozens of films and even directed a handful himself.

More recently, Paxton had been focusing on the small screen. His role as a polygamist in HBO's Big Loveearned him Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. And Paxton played the lead in the television spin-off of the film Training Day, which launched on CBS earlier this month. As a corrupt LAPD detective, Paxton tackled the kind of moral ambiguity that characterized some of his most memorable roles.

Based on the reaction from many of his colleagues, those who worked with the beloved actor felt no such ambivalence about the man himself.

What may risk going unnoticed, though, is the sheer effort Paxton would put into his roles. In a 2009 interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Paxton explained his process while filming Big Love.

"I live kind of a monastic existence. I usually stay in a hotel," Paxton said, noting that he would spend his evenings memorizing his lines for the next day. "Every night I have five or six pages I have to learn. I don't know if my memory is starting to fail me, but I really have to get it down cold the night before."

Paxton added: "My technique is kind of like the errant schoolboy who has to stay after school and write 'I will not talk in class' on the chalkboard. I write it over and over, again and again, until I find I understand the character I'm playing."

And though he left Texas when he was still in his teens to pursue his acting career, Paxton said he carried some crucial lessons with him that he'd learned from his father, who was a hardwood salesman.

"Look, I've been an actor most of my adult life, and you certainly have to know how to sell yourself to get on in this profession. ... But it's not a phony thing. My dad sold a good product — you know, these hardwoods were used to make everything from musical instruments to beautiful furniture and every use in between.

"He had integrity about the thing he was selling," Paxton continued. "And I certainly picked that up from him."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.