Gene Hackman in the "French Connection."

“I have trouble with direction, because I have trouble with authority. I was not a good Marine.”

Gene Hackman was born in San Bernardino, California, but family problems spurred him into moving frequently. Although they finally settled in Danville Illinois, his father left when Hackman was 13 years old and his mother was an alcoholic. At the age of 16, Hackman decided to drop out of high school and join the Marines. Despite being underage, he lied well enough to enlist.

It only took a few short months in 1947 for the teenaged Hackman to go from basic training to a duty station in China. He worked primarily as a radio operator, but still found avenues for creative expression during his service. One day he volunteered as a disc-jockey for his unit’s radio station which turned into a more permanent position which included newscasting. Hackman’s deployment took him from Tsing Tao to Shanghai, but he was later stationed in Hawaii. Over the course of his time in the Marines, he was demoted three times for leaving his post without permission.

Once he left the military, Hackman took on a series of jobs to support himself. He utilized the GI Bill to study journalism and TV production at the University of Illinois, and later joined the School of Radio Technique in New York. At one point during this time he became a doorman in New York. A fellow former Marine walked through, recognized Hackman, and said, “Hackman, you’re a sorry son of a bitch.”

Hackman did break into acting at the age of 30, and earned respect as an actor of every-man characters. He began working in off-Broadway plays in the 1960s, and steadily found work that put him in the spotlight. He was considered for the part of Mike Brady in “The Brady Bunch,” but declined to wait for something more prolific. He was nominated in 1967 for Best Supporting Actor for “Bonnie and Clyde,” and again in 1971 for his part in “I Never Sang for My Father.” He did win the award the year after for his role as detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in “The French Connection.”

His career was comprised of lead and supporting roles, and he participated in a large number of projects. Despite his career as an actor, the abilities and discipline in the Marines never left him. On at least two separate occasions, Hackman handled a physical altercation with assailants and walked away unharmed. His last film was “Welcome to Mooseport” in 2004, after which he officially retired from acting. Since then, he’s focused on writing. He’s produced four novels, and continues to write to this day. Over the course of his career, he’s won two Oscars in Best Supporting Actor and Best Leading Actor, as well as four Golden Globes.

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