As a teenager in the ’90s, no actor better represented blockbuster movies than Bill Paxton. Although Paxton wasn’t typically a leading man in those movies  —  he would often play the brother, the second-in-command, or the comic relief  —  he served as a kind of talisman of quality. If you saw Paxton’s name in the opening credits of a movie, you knew that the film was going to be better for it.

So losing Bill Paxton today at the age of 61 doesn’t just hurt the adult version of me, it reaches all the way back in time and punches the teenage version of me holding a copy of Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark right in the gut. According to a report in TMZ  —  since confirmed by a statement from the actor’s family  —  Paxton passed away due to complications from surgery.

Here is the statement from their family:

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. Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable. We ask to please respect the family’s wish for privacy as they mourn the loss of their adored husband and father.

When an actor of Paxton’s stature passes away, the inclination is to lament him or her based on their signature role. For Paxton, we could choose a dozen. Not only was the actor a frequent collaborator of blockbuster director James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic), he also worked with directors such as Ron Howard, Jan de Bont, and Sam Raimi at the height of their power, becoming known for the type of crowd-pleasing summer movies that have swept away by the recent wave of superhero films.

And despite a reputation that never truly evolved beyond Private Hudson in Aliens, Paxton was capable of remarkable performances as an actor as well. Watch his quiet greed and desperation in Raimi’s A Simple Plan, where he plays a man struggling to stay on top of his life after coming across a hidden fortune, or his struggles as a parent and a man of faith in 2001’s Fraility. The latter film not only marked Paxton’s debut as a director, it also featured perhaps his finest performance to date as a man obsessed with what he describes as religious visions.

With the first season of CBS’s Training Day currently underway, we’ll at least have one more chance to say goodbye to a beloved actor. For tonight, though, pull out your favorite Bill Paxton movie on Blu-ray and enjoy one of the great unheralded action stars of the 20th century.

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