Gene Hackman biography
Gene Hackman was born on January 30, 1930, in San Bernardino, California. He dropped out of high school to join the Marines, and then studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse Theatre. Hackman's breakout film was Bonnie and Clyde. His famous performances include Popeye Doyle in The French Connection and Lex Luther in Superman. Hackman has received two Oscars. He has since retired from acting.
Actor and writer Gene Hackman was born on January 30, 1930, in San Bernardino, California. An Academy Award-winning actor, Hackman played nearly every type of role imaginable, from politicians to super cops to military leaders to criminal masterminds. As a child, he moved to Illinois with his parents where his father worked as a newspaper press operator. His father abandoned the family when Hackman was in his early teens.
When he was 16 years old, Hackman dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He lied about his age in order to enlist. During his time in the service, Hackman worked as a radio operator and finished his high school education. After being discharged in 1951, Hackman tried to find his way, living in Illinois and New York while working a variety of jobs. He studied journalism and TV production for a time as well.
Hackman eventually decided on acting and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse Theatre in the 1950s. Dustin Hoffman was one of his fellow students, and the two became friends and shared the dubious distinction of being voted "least likely to succeed" by their peers. Around this time, Hackman married Faye Maltese in 1956.
Returning to New York, Hackman landed his first off-Broadway role in Chaparral in 1958. He became friends with actor Robert Duvall and even had Dustin Hoffman as a roommate for a time. Struggling for several years, Hackman landed his first film role -- only a bit part -- in 1961's Mad Dog Coll. He made his Broadway debut two years in the Children From Their Games, which was quickly followed a role in A Rainy Day in Newark later that year. Hackman was also part of the original cast of Any Wednesday with Sandy Dennis, which debuted the following year. After seeing him on Broadway, Director Robert Rossen cast Hackman in the drama Lilith (1964) with Warren Beatty.
Beatty proved instrumental in Hackman's big career breakthrough. He helped Hackman land a supporting role in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which starred Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the infamous criminal couple. Hackman played Clyde's brother, Buck Burrow, who joins his sibling and his lady on their bank robbery spree. The role brought Hackman a lot of critical attention and his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Three years, Hackman garnered another Best Supporting Actor nod from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences for his work on I Never Sang for My Father (1970). In the film, he played a professor trying to forge a relationship with his estranged father (played by Melvyn Douglas) after his mother's death.
Hackman's career really took off after starring in The French Connection (1971). He played the ultimate tough cop -- Detective Popeye Doyle -- in this big box office hit thriller directed by William Friedkin. For his work on the film, Hackman won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
After the success of The French Connection, Hackman took on a variety of films. He joined such classic stars as Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, and Shelley Winters for the disaster-at-sea saga The Poseidon Adventure (1972). The next year, he teamed up with Al Pacino for the drama Scarecrow (1973). Hackman went on to star in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), playing a surveillance expert who gets caught up in one of his projects. His portrayal of the measured and precise professional loner Harry Caul is another one of Hackman’s most praised performance.
Hackman returned as Popeye Doyle the following year in The French Connection II (1975). Along with such successes as Bite the Bullet (1975) and Night Moves (1975), Hackman had his share of misses, including the romantic comedy Lucky Lady (1975) co-starring Liza Minnelli and Burt Reynolds.
Known for his dramatic roles, Hackman took a more comedic turn with his portrayal of super villain Lex Luthor in 1978's Superman, which starred Christopher Reeve as the legendary man of steel. He reprised his role in two sequels: Superman II (1980) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1988).
Reuniting with Warren Beatty, Hackman had a small role in Reds (1981), which was based on the true story of a politically radical journalist named John Reed. Beatty starred as Reed and also directed and produced the film. In his next effort, Hackman played a colonel who goes to Vietnam to find his son who went missing in action in Uncommon Valor (1983). He earned praise for his performance while the film itself received lackluster reviews.
Hackman continued to explore different genres and types of characters for the remainder of the decade. With Hoosiers (1986), he played a new coach who leads a small town basketball team to victory. Hackman then played a sinister secretary of defense in No Way Out (1987) with Kevin Costner.
Hackman gave another stellar performance in the civil rights era drama Mississippi Burning (1988). In the historical dramatic thriller based on a true story, he played an F.B.I. agent investigating the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. Hackman earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination. Not long after this film, he had some health problems and underwent angioplasty after experiencing a near-heart attack. Hackman considered retirement for a while, but he eventually returned to films.
Working with another impressive film talent, Clint Eastwood, Hackman netted an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Unforgiven (1992). He played a cruel sheriff in this western, which Eastwood not only starred in but also directed and produced.
The film also won the award for Best Picture and Eastwood won for Best Director. Taking on a different kind of morally questionable character, Hackman played Tom Cruise’s mentor in The Firm (1993), a film adaptation of a John Grisham novel.
Three years later, Hackman starred in another John Grisham adaptation, The Chamber (1996), in which he played a convicted murderer and racist facing execution. The film struck out with critics and movie-goers alike. He had better luck that year as a conservative senator with the comedy The Birdcage (1996) with Robin Williams.
In 2001, Hackman played the patriarch in Wes Anderson's offbeat family comedy The Royal Tenenbaums. Anjelica Huston co-starred as his estranged wife and Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson played his estranged adult children. Two years later, Hackman got a chance to work with old friend Dustin Hoffman in Runaway Jury, which also starred John Cusack. He played a jury consultant working for a gun manufacturer in a suit that Hoffman's client has brought against the company. Cusack plays a juror who offers to fix the verdict for the highest bidder.
Hackman's last film project to date was the light-hearted comedy Welcome to Mooseport (2004), in which he starred as a former president who battles a local (Ray Romano) in its mayoral elections. While promoting the film, Hackman appeared on The Larry King Show and said that he did not have another film project lined up and that his film career was "probably all over."
While he may have stepped away from acting, Hackman has a thriving second career as a novelist. He has co-written three books with Daniel Lenihan: Wake of the Perdido Star (1999), Justice for None (2004), and most recently, Escape from Andersonville: A Novel of the Civil War (2008).
Hackman has three children, Christopher, Elizabeth and Leslie, from his first marriage. He is currently married to Betsy Arakawa.