Gene Hackman Biography
Born: January 30, 1930
Date of Birth: January 30, 1930
The elder of his parents' two children, Gene Hackman was born at the onset of the Great Depression in San Bernardino, California, and raised in rural Danville, Illinois. His father left the family when Hackman was 13 by driving away without a word - just a casual "so long" wave from the driver's seat.
In high school, Hackman mostly kept to himself when not at the gym, where his height made him a natural for the school's basketball team. Feeling pressured by his mother to be a father figure for his younger brother, the teen dropped out of school, lied about his age and joined the Marine Corps. He served for six years and was honorably discharged in 1952. Since he had successfully completed a high school equivalency course while a Marine, he enrolled at the University of Illinois and majored in journalism. He dropped out six months later.
Heading to New York, he then attended the School of Radio Technique which was followed by radio jobs in Florida and Illinois. Unsuccessfully holding his interest, he briefly returned to New York to study commercial art with the Art Students League. Eventually, he drifted out to California, and enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he and classmate Dustin Hoffman mostly impersonated Marlon Brando and were ultimately voted "least likely to succeed." Once more, Hackman headed back to New York. In between off-Broadway roles, Hackman paid the rent by working as a soda jerk, shoe salesman, furniture mover, waiter, truck driver, and doorman. He also met and married bank teller Fay Maltese, by whom he eventually fathered three children.
After several years of stage work and small TV and film roles, Hackman sounded two important professional notes in 1964, when he had his first big hit on Broadway with Any Wednesday, and delivered a small but arresting turn in the Warren Beatty starrer Lilith. Beatty was so impressed that he offered Hackman a plum part in his landmark 1967 crime drama Bonnie and Clyde. Playing the role of outlaw Buck Barrow, brother to Beatty's Clyde, Hackman delivered a searing, shocking portrayal, playing his extended death scene on all fours - he later claimed to have drawn inspiration for that scene from seeing bulls die at bullfights. Hackman garnered the first Oscar nomination of his career, paving the way for his true breakthrough performance four years later in The French Connection for which he took home a Best Actor Oscar.
With roles in over 40 films during the next 20 years, Hackman polished his reputation as both a powerful lead and a seamless supporting player, delivering particularly excellent performances in The Conversation (1974), Superman (1978), Hoosiers (1986), and Mississippi Burning (1988). During that period, he also endured a pair of personal trials: His long-estranged father, with whom he never reached a full reconciliation, died of a heart attack in 1973; and his nearly 30-year marriage to Maltese ended in divorce in 1985.
Typecasting finally caught up with Hackman following his portrayal of a corrupt sheriff in Unforgiven, which brought him the second Oscar of his career, in the Best Supporting Actor category. By the late '90s, he had become one of Hollywood's most reliable screen villains, playing a crooked lawyer in The Firm (1993); a murderous gunfighter in The Quick and the Dead (1995); a nuke-happy sub commander in Crimson Tide (1995); an embittered, unrepentant Klansman on Death Row in The Chamber (1996); a scheming, dangerously experimental surgeon in Extreme Measures (1996); and an adulterous, violent-tempered President in Absolute Power (1997). Even his largely comedic turns in 1995's Get Shorty and 1996's The Birdcage had him playing slick, manipulative types.
Since 1981, Hackman has made his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, far from the bright lights of Hollywood, where he indulges in impressionistic painting and stone sculpting. While his hobbies may be a bit slower, the pace of his career certainly hasn't slackened: He earned prominent roles in three major 1998 releases, Twilight, Antz (his first work in an animated film), and the Will Smith thriller Enemy of the State, in which he departs from his lately-established villainous persona to portray a sympathetic rogue intelligence agent.