Eugene Allen Hackman was born in San Bernardino, California, the son of Anna Lyda Elizabeth (Gray) and Eugene Ezra Hackman, who operated a newspaper printing press. He is of Pennsylvania Dutch (German), English, and Scottish ancestry, partly by way of Canada, where his mother was born. After several moves, his family settled in Danville, Illinois. Gene grew up in a broken home, which he left at the age of sixteen for a hitch with the US Marines. Moving to New York after being discharged, he worked in a number of menial jobs before studying journalism and television production on the G.I. Bill at the University of Illinois. Hackman would be over 30 years old when he finally decided to take his chance at acting by enrolling at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. Legend says that Hackman and friend Dustin Hoffman were voted “least likely to succeed.”
Hackman next moved back to New York, where he worked in summer stock and off-Broadway. In 1964 he was cast as the young suitor in the Broadway play “Any Wednesday.” This role would lead to him being cast in the small role of Norman in Lilith (1964), starring Warren Beatty. When Beatty was casting for Bonnie and Clyde (1967), he cast Hackman as Buck Barrow, Clyde Barrow’s brother. That role earned Hackman a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, an award for which he would again be nominated in I Never Sang for My Father (1970). In 1972 he won the Oscar for his role as Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in The French Connection (1971). At 40 years old Hackman was a Hollywood star whose work would rise to new heights with Night Moves (1975) and Bite the Bullet (1975), or fall to new depths with The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Eureka (1983). Hackman is a versatile actor who can play comedy (the blind man in Young Frankenstein (1974)) or villainy (the evil Lex Luthor in Superman (1978)). He is the doctor who puts his work above people in Extreme Measures (1996) and the captain on the edge of nuclear destruction in Crimson Tide (1995). After initially turning down the role of Little Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), Hackman finally accepted it, as its different slant on the western interested him. For his performance he won the Oscar and Golden Globe and decided that he wasn’t tired of westerns after all. He has since appeared in Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), and The Quick and the Dead (1995).
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