Billy Bob Thornton (born August 4, 1955) is an American actor, filmmaker, singer, songwriter, and musician.
Thornton had his first break when he co-wrote and starred in the 1992 thriller One False Move, and came to international attention after writing, directing, and starring in the independent drama film Sling Blade (1996), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He appeared in several major film roles in the 1990s following Sling Blade, including Oliver Stone's neo-noir U Turn (1997), political drama Primary Colors (1998), science fiction disaster film Armageddon (1998), which was the highest-grossing film of that year, and the crime drama A Simple Plan (1998), which earned him his third Academy Awards nomination.
In the 2000s, Thornton achieved further success in starring dramas Monster's Ball (2001), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), and Friday Night Lights (2004); comedies Bandits (2001), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), and Bad Santa (2003); and action films Eagle Eye (2008) and Faster (2010). In 2014, Thornton starred as Lorne Malvo in the first season of the anthology series Fargo, earning a nomination for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie at the Emmy Awards and won Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Film at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards. In 2016, he starred in an Amazon original series, Goliath about a washed up attorney with a great new case.
Thornton has been vocal about his distaste for celebrity culture, choosing to keep his life out of the public eye. However, the attention of the media has proven unavoidable in certain cases, his marriage to Angelina Jolie being a notable example. Thornton has appeared in at least one film per year nearly every year since 1991. Thornton has written a variety of films, usually set in the Southern United States and mainly co-written with Tom Epperson, including A Family Thing (1996) and The Gift (2000). After Sling Blade, he directed several other films, including Daddy and Them (2001), All the Pretty Horses (2000), and Jayne Mansfield's Car (2012).
Thornton has received the President's Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, a Special Achievement Award from the National Board of Review, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also been nominated for an Emmy Award, four Golden Globes, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. In addition to film work, Thornton began a career as a singer-songwriter. He has released four solo albums and is the vocalist of the blues rock band The Boxmasters.
Billy Bob Thornton was born on August 4, 1955 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the son of Virginia Roberta (née Faulkner), a self-proclaimed psychic, and William Raymond "Billy Ray" Thornton (November 1929 – August 1974), a high school history teacher and basketball coach who died when Thornton was 18. His brother, Jimmy Don (April 1958 – October 1988), wrote a number of songs, two of which ("Island Avenue" and "Emily") Thornton has recorded on his solo albums.
During his childhood, Thornton lived in numerous places in Arkansas, including Alpine, Mount Holly, and Malvern. He was raised Methodist in an extended family in a shack that had no electricity or plumbing. He graduated from high school in 1973. A good high school baseball player, he tried out for the Kansas City Royals, but was released after an injury. After a short period laying asphalt for the Arkansas State Transportation Department, he attended Henderson State University to pursue studies in psychology, but dropped out after two semesters.
In the mid-1980s, Thornton settled in Los Angeles to pursue his career as an actor, with future writing partner Tom Epperson. He initially had a difficult time succeeding as an actor, and worked in telemarketing, offshore wind farming, and fast food management between auditioning for acting jobs. He also played drums and sang with South African rock band Jack Hammer. While Thornton worked as a waiter for an industry event, he served film director and screenwriter Billy Wilder. Thornton struck up a conversation with Wilder, who advised Thornton to consider a career as a screenwriter.
Thornton's first screen role was in 1980's South of Reno, where he played a small role as a counter man in a restaurant. He also made an appearance as a pawn store clerk in the 1987 Matlock episode "The Photographer". Another one of his early screen roles was as a cast member on the CBS sitcom Hearts Afire. His role as the villain in 1992's One False Move, which he also co-wrote, brought him to the attention of critics. He also had small roles in the 1990s films Indecent Proposal, On Deadly Ground, Bound by Honor, and Tombstone. He went on to write, direct, and star in the 1996 independent film Sling Blade. The film, an expansion of the short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, introduced the story of a mentally handicapped man imprisoned for a gruesome and seemingly inexplicable murder.
Sling Blade garnered international acclaim. Thornton's screenplay earned him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Writers Guild of America Award, and an Edgar Award, while his performance received Oscar and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Best Actor. In 1998, Thornton portrayed the James Carville-like Richard Jemmons in Primary Colors. He adapted the book All the Pretty Horses into a 2000 film of the same name. The negative experience (he was forced to cut more than an hour of footage) led to his decision to never direct another film; a subsequent release, Daddy and Them, had been filmed earlier. Also in 2000, an early script which he and Tom Epperson wrote together was made into The Gift.
In 2000, Thornton appeared in Travis Tritt's music video for the song "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde". His screen persona has been described by the press as that of a "tattooed, hirsute man's man". He appeared in several major film roles following the success of Sling Blade, including 1998's Armageddon and A Simple Plan. In 2001, he directed Daddy and Them while securing starring roles in three Hollywood films: Monster's Ball, Bandits, and The Man Who Wasn't There, for which he received many awards.
Thornton played a malicious mall Santa in 2003's Bad Santa, a black comedy that performed well at the box office and established him as a leading comic actor, and in the same year, portrayed a womanizing President of the United States in the British romantic comedy film Love Actually. He stated that, following the success of Bad Santa, audiences "like to watch him play that kind of guy" and that "casting directors call him up when they need an asshole". He referred to this when he said that "it's kinda that simple... you know how narrow the imagination in this business can be".
In 2004, Thornton played David Crockett in The Alamo. Later that year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 7. He appeared in the 2006 comic film School for Scoundrels. In the film, he plays a self-help doctor, which was written specifically for him. More recent films include 2007 drama The Astronaut Farmer and the comedy Mr. Woodcock, in which he played a sadistic gym teacher. In September 2008, he starred in the action film Eagle Eye. He has also expressed an interest in directing another film, possibly a period piece about cave explorer Floyd Collins, based on the book Trapped! The Story of Floyd Collins.
In 1990, Thornton, who has had a lifelong love for music, began a hobby as a singer-songwriter. He released a roots rock album titled Private Radio in 2001, and three more albums, The Edge of the World (2003), Hobo (2005) and Beautiful Door (2007). Thornton's manager, David Spero, helped his Edge of the World album get off the ground with a summer tour. Thornton was the singer of a blues rock band named Tres Hombres. Guitarist Billy Gibbons referred to the band as "The best little cover band in Texas", and Thornton bears a tattoo with the band's name on it. He performed the Warren Zevon song The Wind on the tribute album Enjoy Every Sandwich: Songs of Warren Zevon. Thornton recorded a cover of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire" with Earl Scruggs, for the Oxford American magazine's Southern Music CD in 2001. The song also appeared on Scruggs' 2001 album Earl Scruggs and Friends.
On April 8, 2009, Thornton and his musical group The Boxmasters appeared on CBC Radio One program Q, which was widely criticized and received international attention after Thornton was persistently unintelligible and discourteous to host Jian Ghomeshi. Thornton eventually explained he had "instructed" the show's producers to not ask questions about his movie career. Ghomeshi had mentioned Thornton’s acting in the introduction. Thornton had also complained Canadian audiences were like "mashed potatoes without the gravy." The following night, opening for Willie Nelson at Toronto's Massey Hall, Thornton said mid-set he liked Canadians but not Ghomeshi, which was greeted with boos and catcalls. The Boxmasters did not continue the tour in Canada as, according to Thornton, some of the crew and band had the flu.
Thornton has married six times, with the first five marriages ending in divorce, and he has five children by three women. From 1978 to 1980, he was married to Melissa Lee Gatlin, with whom he had a daughter, Amanda. Thornton married actress Toni Lawrence in 1986; they separated the following year and divorced in 1988. From 1990 to 1992, he was married to actress Cynda Williams, whom he cast in his writing debut, One False Move (1992). In 1993, Thornton married Playboy model Pietra Dawn Cherniak, with whom he had three sons, Harry James, Ryan, and William; the marriage ended in 1997, with Cherniak accusing Thornton of spousal abuse. Son Ryan has followed in his father's footsteps as a comedic actor in sketch comedy troupe "Free Pizza".
Thornton was engaged to be married to actress Laura Dern, whom he dated from 1997 to 1999, but in 2000, he married actress Angelina Jolie, with whom he starred in Pushing Tin (1999) and who is 20 years his junior. The marriage became known for the couple's eccentric displays of affection, which reportedly included wearing vials of each other's blood around their necks; Thornton later clarified that the "vials" were actually two small lockets, each containing only a single drop of blood. Thornton and Jolie announced the adoption of a child from Cambodia in March 2002, but it was later revealed that Jolie had adopted the child as a single parent. They separated in June 2002 and divorced the following year.
In 2003, Thornton began a relationship with makeup effects crew member Connie Angland, with whom he has a daughter named Bella. They reside in Los Angeles, California. Though he once said that he likely would not marry again, saying that he believes marriage "doesn't work" for him, his representatives confirmed that he and Angland were married on October 22, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Thornton has obsessive–compulsive disorder. Various idiosyncratic behaviors have been well documented in interviews with Thornton; among these is a phobia of antique furniture—a disorder shared by Dwight Yoakam's character Doyle Hargraves in the Thornton-penned Sling Blade, and by Thornton's own character in the 2001 film Bandits. Additionally, he has stated that he has a fear of certain types of silverware, a trait assumed by his character Hank Grotowski in 2001's Monster's Ball, in which Grotowski insists on a plastic spoon for his daily bowl of chocolate ice cream.
In a 2004 interview with The Independent, Thornton explained: "It's just that I won't use real silver. You know, like the big, old, heavy-ass forks and knives, I can't do that. It's the same thing as the antique furniture. I just don't like old stuff. I'm creeped out by it, and I have no explanation why... I don't have a phobia about American antiques, it's mostly French — you know, like the big, old, gold-carved chairs with the velvet cushions. The Louis XIV type. That's what creeps me out. I can spot the imitation antiques a mile off. They have a different vibe. Not as much dust."
Thornton is a baseball fan; his favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals, and he has said that his childhood dream was to play for them. He narrated The 2006 World Series Film, the year-end retrospective DVD chronicling the Cardinals' championship season. He is also a professed fan of the Indianapolis Colts football team.
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