Billy Bob Thornton Biography

Billy Bob Thornton

'Sling Blade' made him a household name, as well as his turbulent love life, especially his latest ex, Angelina Jolie. Oscar winner, actor, scriptwriter director and musician.

Billy Bob Thornton was born William Robert Thornton on 4 August 1944. His father was William Raymond Thornton, also known as Billy Ray, and he worked as a high school history teacher and basketball coach; Billy’s mother was Virginia R. Faulkner; she was half-Italian, and half Choctaw Indian.

His mother had a highly unusual occupation - she was a gifted psychic, and actually predicted that Billy would become a famous actor and win an Oscar one day - happily, she was right! Thornton has three younger brothers - James Donald (Jimmy Don), who is now dead, James (Jim) Bean and John David.

Thornton's early life and upbringing was far from glitzy. He spent much of his childhood living with over a dozen members of his extended family in his grandfather's humble log cabin in the woods around the small hamlet of Alpine, which boasted a population of around 100 people.

His grandfather was a forest ranger, and his house had no running water or electricity; he grew up learning to read by the light of a coal-oil lamp, and the family's staple diet was based around what his grandfather had managed to shoot that day, which might include deer or possum.

A few years later, the Thornton family moved to the town of Malvern, where young Billy Bob discovered his first true love - rock music! He soon acquired a taste for the music of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, the global megastars of the 1960s. At the age of nine, he was given his first drum kit, and he soon undertook his first public concert, at the local school PTA meeting. He soon formed a band, called the Coveys (named after a black baseball star with the San Francisco Giants); he later formed a second band, called Stone Cold Fever, and was keen on playing the hits of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Even as a boy, Thornton had a nose for trouble, and accidentally burnt down someone's barn whilst smoking cigarettes with his school-mates. He didn't particularly excel at high school, and was far more interested in the music gigs he played in local bars at the weekends. After high school, he worked a succession of blue-collar jobs, including labouring on a construction site for the Highways Department., driving bulldozers and working in a factory making screen doors. He later landed a job in a nursing home in Malvern, where he first of all became the maintenance man, but then progressed to organising the home's entertainment.

Throughout the 1970s, Thornton firmly believed that his future destiny lay in rock music. He formed a group called the Tres Hombres, named after ZZ Top's hit album of 1973: he found some small measure of success as a musician, and even succeeded in releasing an album called 'Gunslinger'. In order to make ends meet, he would also work as a roadie for other bands, including a Canadian group called Lighthouse, whilst they toured the United States.

Along the way, Thornton also got married for the first time – he's been married no less than five times in all. At the age of 20, he married Melissa Ross, with whom he had a daughter, called Amanda. This first marriage was short-lived: Thornton is on record as saying, "I went bowling one night, and ended up married!" Domestic bliss didn't appeal much, and Thornton soon took off for Los Angeles with a childhood friend, Tom Epperson. The two lads hit New York first, but found the Big Apple way too overwhelming, so they headed out West instead.

Out in LA, Thornton's interest in acting began to develop, and he enrolled for acting lessons. He tried his hand at writing too: even as a high school student, he'd been interested in drama, and he'd been writing short stories since the age of nine. Thornton and Tom decided to try their hand at writing scripts together, hoping to strike lucky in Hollywood, but their efforts met with little success. In fact, Thornton had a long, hard struggle to get even a toehold in the movie business: at one stage, movie legend has it that the two men were so broke, they couldn't afford to eat properly, and lived on a diet of potatoes!

Eventually, Thornton's health began to suffer, and he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with myocarditis: the doctors said that this was a heart condition brought about by malnutrition. Once he had recovered, his acting coach allowed him to carry on studying for free, and he hung out around Hollywood, waiting for his "big break".

Thornton's big break was a long time coming - but he finally succeeded in landing a role in the TV movie, 'The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains', a chain-gang drama directed by Daniel Mann.

Better things were round the corner as the 1990s dawned, for in 1992, Thornton and Tom Epperson had their script for a film called 'One False Move' accepted. Even better, Thornton got to star in the movie too, alongside Bill Paxton and Cynda Williams, whom he also ended up marrying between 1990 and 1992. The film soon became a cult success, and turned out to be a major turning-point in Thornton's career.

He and Epperson continued to write together, producing several scripts that eventually got produced. Meanwhile, Thornton was cast in several good, if limited, TV parts, including Francis Ford Coppola's TV series, 'The Outsiders'. He also acted in Burt Reynolds’ production, 'Evening Shade', thus fulfilling his own mother’s prediction that he would act alongside Burt Reynolds one day!

Thornton's film acting career was slowly gathering momentum: he landed small roles in 'Indecent Proposal' and 'Tombstone', as well as Steven Segal’s eco-thriller, 'On Deadly Ground'. In 1993, he'd managed to get a short movie entitled 'Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade' produced: but he wasn’t happy with the finished result, so he re-wrote the story as a full-length film script. The script was bought by a film company called The Shooting Gallery who allowed Thornton to have a great deal of creative input in the production process, especially the all-important casting process - Thornton himself appeared in nearly every scene. The movie only cost $1 million to make, but was a massive box-office success, netting revenues of over $65 million!

Thornton was Oscar-nominated as Best Actor for the movie, (which had been re-named Sling Blade) - but he did win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. 

Thornton's private life was every bit as eventful as his career. In 1992, he had met and married Pietra Cherniak, in a whirlwind romance that began after they'd first met outside a restaurant. Pietra and Thornton had two boys together, but the marriage eventually foundered, and in 1997, Pietra filed for divorce. She also took out a restraining order to keep Thornton away from herself and the two boys. He then married again, this time to Laura Dem, who he'd met whilst acting in 'Ellen'.

His fourth marriage hit the rocks when he travelled to Toronto to film the movie, 'Pushing Tin', in which he co-starred with John Cusack. He played the part of a wayward air traffic controller, and the young sexy actress Angelina Jolie was cast to play his screen wife; but it wasn't long before the couple were an "item" in real life too. They turned out to be a controversial couple, and their daring, unconventional lifestyle made them ideal fodder for the tabloid gossip columns.

According to newspaper reports, he wore her underwear when he went to the gym, and they were also renowned for cutting each other in bed. They bought a $3million home in Beverly Hills that had previously belonged to Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash, with a recording studio in the basement. Here, Thornton recorded a country music album called 'Private Radio', and also made a single called 'Angelina'. The couple also adopted a Cambodian orphan, named Maddox.

This was a highly productive period in Thornton's career, and the big roles just kept on coming. He landed a starring role in 'Monster's Ball', where he played a prison warder alongside Halle Berry, who won an Oscar for her performance. In 2002, he also played in 'The Badge', and 'Waking Up in Reno'. He was also a favourite actor with top Hollywood directors, the Coen brothers, taking lead roles in 'The Man Who Wasn't There', and 'Intolerable Cruelty', with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Thornton was now a big star, but by 2002, his marriage to Jolie collapsed, and his private life was in chaos.

In the wake of his divorce, Thornton now accepted a string of comedy roles, demonstrating his impressive diversity as an actor. He played the US president opposite Hugh Grant in 'Love Actually', and then played a drunken con-man in 'Bad Santa', where he robbed little children of their Christmas presents, accompanied by his evil elf sidekick! 'Bad Santa' was also a huge hit, and earned Thornton a Golden Globe nomination. Whilst filming Bad Santa, Thornton met and got seriously involved with Connie Angland, some ten years younger than him. In 2004, Connie gave birth to Thornton's daughter, called Bella.

Despite his colourful private life, Thornton has continued to pursue an impressive and multi-faceted career. He released another music album in 2003, 'The Edge Of The World', and also completed a promotional music tour.

On 7 October 2004, Thornton was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the acting world. After this, he acted in 'Bad News Bears' and 'The Ice Harvest' in 2005 and 'School for Scoundrels' and 'The Astronaut Farmer' in 2006.

One of his most recent films, 'Mr Woodcock' (2007), is another of the ultra-black comedies that are such a perfect vehicle for his dramatic talents. Since then he has appeared in action thriller 'Eagle Eye' and crime thriller 'Informers' in 2008. This was followed by roles in 'The Smell of Success' in 2009, with Thornton also lending his voice to video game 'Deadly Creatures' the same year.

In 2010, he starred in 'Faster' before voicing Jack in the animated film 'Puss in Boots' with Antonio Banderas in 2011. Thornton had a role in 'Jayne Mansfield's Car' in 2012 and will next be appearing in 'The Baytown Outlaws' and 'Red Machine' in 2013. He is then set to act in 'Three Nights', which will be released in 2014.

In addition to his high-profile movie and scriptwriting career, he even has his own signature clothing line. All in all, it’s pretty good going for a country boy from the backwoods of Arkansas.

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