Like most people, I don’t really believe in so called curses or conspiracy theories. Part of the reason is that if you dig a little deeper, you’d find more things that have been abandoned to fit the narrative. I once read about a columnist who said that if a reporter/journalist ever feels to make one more call to double check something, make the call even if it means all the work you’ve put into it falls apart.
There’s a number of curses pertaining to ther Our Gang/The Little Rascals, Poltergiest movies, and even actors refusing to say the name of MacBeth if they’re performing it. There’s a lot of superstitions and weird similarities. Sports fanatics will wear certain jerseys or sit in certain seats. In Silver Linings Playbook, you have to hold the remote controls in the correct hands. It can seem like much ado about nothing. You only notice it when things go wrong.
That being the case, I first heard about the so called “Billy Bob Thornton Curse” about 10 years ago. I think it was when Michael Clark Duncan passed away in 2012 following complications from a heart attack that hospitalized him and then he died of respiratory failure. Duncan was only 54, still relatively young in today’s world but it was still a surprise. Duncan and Thornton had appeared together in the movie Armageddon.
That movie had came out in 1998 the same year another costar of Thornton’s passed away. On Feb. 27 of that year, J.T. Walsh passed away from a heart attack also at the age of 54. Walsh had a small role in Thornton’s Oscar-winning Sling Blade which came out in 1996. That movie catapulted Thornton to the A-list, but people were already dying at still relatively young ages.
Thornton was still a struggling actor when he was cast in a small role in the prison crime saga Blood In Blood Out. Even though he doesn’t share any scenes with actor Theordore Wilson, who had appeared on TV shows such as That’s My Mama and Sanford Arms as well as Mel Brooks’ Life Stinks died on July 21, 1991 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from complications from a stroke. He had undergone open-heart surgery years prior. Wilson was only 47.
In 1992, Thornton became a critics’ darling with his gritty crime thriller One False Move, which he co-wrote as well as appeared in alongside Bill Paxton. Paxton would co-star with Thornton again in Tombstone in 1993 and A Simple Plan in 1998. On Feb. 25, 2017, Paxton suffered a fatal stroke while a patient at Cedars-Sinai. He had first gone into the hospital on Feb. 14 of that year to have open-heart surgery to repair a damaged valve and correct an aortic aneurysm. The next day, he had to have an emergency surgery to correct a damaged coronary artery. But his condition only worsened over the next 10 days.
It seems a lot of actors connected to Thornton have had heart problems. He co-starred with John Ritter on the sitcom Hearts Afire and then Ritter was in Sling Blade as well as Bad Santa. On Sept. 11, 2003, Ritter had been admitted to the hospital after vomiting, sweating profusely and having chest pains. Initially treated for a heart attack, he was then diagnosed with aortic dissection and was pronounced dead later that day while being taken into surgery. Just like Walsh and Duncan, Ritter was only 54.
Another actor to pass away from a heart attack was James Gandolfini, at 51, on June 19, 2013. Thornton and Gandolfini had starred together in the Coen Brothers noir thriller The Man Who Wasn’t There in 2001. Ritter wasn’t the only other Bad Santa actor to pass away from cardiac-related problems. On Aug. 1, 2008, Bernic Mac was admitted to Northwestern Medical Hospital in Chicago as he was suffering from sarcoidosis for several years. A week later he suffered a cardiac arrest and died the following day on Aug. 9, 2008 from complications from pnuemonia. He was only 50.
Jim Varney was also 50 when he passed away on Feb. 10, 2000 from lung cancer. Varney, a long-time chain smoker despite playing the family-friendly character Ernest P. Worrell, had been diagnosed in 1998. He was cast in Thornton’s Daddy and Them, which was Thornton’s first movie as director following Sling Blade. Farrah Fawcett who had appeared in The Apostle alongside Thornton died on June 25, 2009 of anal cancer. The death was overshadowed by that of Michael Jackson who had died the same day.
Probably one of the most shocking celebrity deaths was that of Heath Ledger on Jan. 22, 2008 at the age of 28. Ledger had passed away from acute combined drug intoxication from a mixture of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepem, alprazolam and doxylamine. Ledger and Thornton has co-starred together in Monster’s Ball. But that wasn’t the only young person to pass away.
On Oct. 9, 2012, Sammi Kane Kraft, who had co-starred with Thornton in The Bad News Bears remake in 2006 died from injuries she sustained in a vehicular collision near Los Angeles. She was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended by a semi and then struck by another vehicle. In recent years, Cameron Boyce, also only 20, died from an epileptic seizure on July 6, 2019. Boyce and Thornton had co-starred together in the 2008 movie Eagle Eye.
To quote The Joker from The Dark Knight, “What doesn’t kill you only makes your stranger.” And the 2002 rom-com Waking up in Reno might be coup de grace. The movie has Thornton co-starring alongside Patrick Swayze and Natasha Richardson. Both Swayze and Richardson would die in 2009. Richardson, 45, died on March 18 from epidural hematoma following a head injury while skiing two days earlier. Swayze passed away six month later on Sept. 14 from cancer.
But it’s not just deaths. Actors connected to Thornton have suffered other tragedies. On Aug. 4, 2008, Morgan Freeman was hospitalized following injuries he sustained from a car accident near Charleston, Miss. Freeman and Thornton had appeared in Levity. In 2001, he appeared in Bandits alongside Bruce Willis, who earlier this year retired from acting saying he has aphasia, which some speculate he has been struggling with for many years.
In 2002, he appeared in The Badge as a small-town sheriff investigating the homicide of a transgendered woman married to a woman played by Patricia Arquette, whose family has suffered some major tragedies. First, there was the death of her father, Lewis, in 2001 from cogestive heart failure. He had co-starred with Thornton in Chopper Chicks in Zombietown. Then, in 2011, her brother, David, checked into a rehab facility to deal with treatment for alcohol abuse and other issues. This came after a separation with his then-wife, Courtney Cox, which was played out in the media tabloids for years. Sadly, in 2016, Alexis Arquette, who by that time had been living with HIV for almost two decades and was a transgendered woman, died from a cardiac arrest caused by myocarditis stemming from HIV.
I’m pretty sure some people can draw many parallels with other actors, celebrities and public figures. Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, would save Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln from serious injury or even death, when he stopped him from falling off a train platform in Jersey City, N.J. Wyatt Earp stopped a mob from lynching Curly Bill Brocius after accidentally shooting Tombstone Marshal Fred White only to later fatally shoot Brocius himself in a gunfight at Iron Springs.
Things are funny that way. You see the social media post of a married couple, Alex and Donna Voutsinas, who were at DisneyWorld 15 years earlier with this families. Donna is with her siblings in the foreground posing with a Disney character Shmee while Alex is in the background 10-15 feet away being pushed in a stroller. They didn’t know each other, but were at the same location one day and met later and fell in love.
Thornton has a resume that includes about 100 acting credits. And in that time, he’s appeared in many high-profile movies with a wide range of actors. The law of probability that any of those actors may suffer a fatal heart attack or develop cancer or die in an accident is too much of a stretch. Thornton’s profilic work and versatility also reflects that he’s worked with many actors who are still alive and kicking. Robert Duvall who he was with in The Apostle and Sling Blade is 91. And Duvall was also in A Family Thing he co-wrote with James Earl Jones, who is also 91. Andy Griffith who he was in with Daddy and Them passed away at 86. And despite that accident, Freeman is still working at 85.
What do you think? Please comment.