From a talented acting generation of brothers, Timothy James Bottoms, who was this close to out-and-out super-stardom in the 1970s, is the oldest of four acting siblings. All four boys were born in Santa Barbara, California (Timothy on August 30, 1951; some sources indicate 1950), as children of James “Bud” Bottoms, a sculptor and high school art teacher, and his wife Betty. Artistic expression was certainly encouraged in this family and Timothy expressed an avid interest, even during his preschool years, of wanting to perform. Raised in Santa Barbara, he was a member of the Youth Theater Productions at school and in 1967 toured Europe along with the Santa Barbara Madrigal Society, which sealed his aspirations.
Following high school, Timothy was spotted by Universal in a stage production of “Romeo and Juliet” and chosen (with no prior film experience) for a lead part in director Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (1971). As Joe, a young American soldier who is shelled and left armless and legless on the last day of World War I, Timothy received excellent reviews and earned a Golden Globe nomination as “Most Promising Newcomer.” His next starring role propelled him into the top leagues. Cast as aimless Texas-boy “Sonny,” the sensitive, mournful-eyed, youthful focus of Peter Bogdanovich’s downbeat Oscar winner The Last Picture Show (1971), the film went on to make full-fledged stars not only of Timothy, but of Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. Younger brother Sam, who frequently visited the set, wound up touchingly cast as another young but ill-fated character.
The early 1970s was a time of great personal accomplishments for Bottoms in film. Engagingly maladroit and looking slightly uncomfortable in his own skin, he proved that his first reviews were no flukes. He appeared to great advantage in the touching drama Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973) opposite British acting doyenne Maggie Smith and as the tousle-haired college protagonist in the coming-of-age box-office hit The Paper Chase (1973). In an effort to break free of his sensitive prototype, he delved into stranger, darker characters with The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974) and Rollercoaster (1977). These efforts were less successful, however, and he quickly began to discover his film career slipping away at the early age of 26.
Outgrowing his awkward adorableness, he shifted to the smaller screen in order to secure challenging roles, such as the biblical lead in The Story of David (1976); his ex-convict in A Small Town in Texas (1976); his bank teller in Arthur Hailey’s the Moneychangers (1976); his fatally-stricken track runner in A Shining Season (1979), and the Raymond Massey role (in which he aged 30 years) in the ambitious mini-series East of Eden (1981), with brother Sam recreating the James Dean part.
Timothy’s success certainly encouraged his younger siblings. By this time Joseph, Sam and Ben were were all experiencing significant lifts in their own respective careers. As a group, the four brothers hooked up together for the TV movie Island Sons (1987), in which they all played brothers and used their real first names. The movie was promoted as a pilot for an upcoming weekly series, but it failed to make the grade. While Timothy continued to work steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the quality of material he was given grew more standard. Roles in such films as Invaders from Mars (1986), The Drifter (1988) and the foreign-made Istanbul (1989) did little to reignite his earlier success. A sequel to his famous “The Last Picture Show”, entitled Texasville (1990), could have had heads turning but the movie decided instead to focus instead on Jeff Bridges (who at this juncture was a big name star) while Timothy’s character was given short shrift with what was essentially a cameo.
Into the millennium Timothy had a slight taste of his former glory while showing a keen talent for parody with his uncanny impersonation of president George W. Bush. Who would have thought? Bottoms’ dead-on spoof on That’s My Bush! (2001), courtesy of the creators of “South Park”, led to a brief Bush cameo in the family film The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002) and the much more serious TV-movie DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (2003). Interestingly, Timothy needed little in the way of prosthetics. He simply parted his hair differently, added a bit of a drawl and imitated his walk!
The still boyish-looking actor with that same trickle of sadness and discomfort has worked continuously for the past thirty years and appeared in over 65 films. Of late he has shined in small independent features such as with his dysfunctional father in Gus Van Sant Elephant (2003), which chronicled a Columbine High School-like massacre, and his closer-to-home portrayal as a middle-aged actor in search of his early fame in Paradise, Texas (2005). More recently is a role in the remake of Jack London’s Call of the Wild (2009).
Timothy’s marriage to folk singer Alicia Cory from 1975 to 1978, produced son Bartholomew. He has three other children (Benton, William, Bridget) with current wife (since 1984) Marcia Morehart. Bottoms divides his time between his acting work and his other great love of training wild horses at his two ranches near Big Sur, California. On the sly he has worked as a surveyor’s assistant. While two of his brothers, Joseph and Ben, have virtually abandoned their film careers for satisfying lives outside the Hollywood realm, Sam died at 53 of brain cancer. Timothy continues to pursue his Hollywood career decided to venture on.
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