“Popeye” Doyle. Lex Luthor. Royal Tenenbaum. “Little” Bill Daggett. These are just four of the iconic roles played by Gene Hackman – and there are plenty more where they came from. In many ways, he was so ubiquitous for so long that we believed he’d always be a fixture on our screens. But when Hackman disappeared with little to no fanfare in the early 2000s, fans couldn’t help but wonder what had happened.
A real talent
Hackman, an undisputed legend of movies, is regularly cited as one of the finest actors in the history of cinema. He was able to sustain a thriving career across more than half a century, which meant he was a star to several different generations. His acting style was characterized by naturalistic understatement, yet also explosive intensity and charisma. This contradiction was perhaps reflected in Hackman’s struggle with the business side of Hollywood, though.
Not trained to be a star
During the 1970s, Hackman told Gene Siskel something that the famed film critic considered the most telling comment he’d ever heard about the demands of fame. “I was trained to be an actor. I was not trained to be a star,” Hackman explained. “I took lessons in acting, not lessons in how to deal with agents and lawyers and investment advisors or, frankly, with you, the press.”
A quiet exit
It was a characteristically honest statement from Hackman, who never minced his words. It wound up being prophetic, too, as this push-pull between acting, celebrity, and the Hollywood machine continuously caused trouble for Hackman in his career. In fact, it may have played a part in his quiet exit stage left in the early 2000s, never to be seen again on screen.
Voted least likely to succeed
Hackman’s acting origins lay in the early 1950s, when he took a course at the Pasadena Playhouse. One of his peers was none other than Dustin Hoffman. And, incredibly, the future Hollywood legends were voted by their classmates as the students who were “Least Likely to Succeed.” Unsurprisingly, none of those colleagues ever amounted to much in the movie business.