One of Hollywood's few celebrators of the "Southern bad boy" image, country musician turned actor-screenwriter-director Billy Bob Thornton consistently engenders a reputation -- via chosen onscreen parts and fervent tabloid reports of his allegedly wild off-camera life -- as an iconoclastic American hellraiser with lightning in his veins. But appearances can deceive, for Thornton also reveals depth and complexity as one Hollywood's most articulate interviewees, graced with intelligent, sensitive observations, cultural allusions, and poignant reflections on his experiences as a thespian and film artist. Moreover, this acute insight evidences itself equally in Thornton's craftsmanship as a screenwriter and director. Though his behind-the-camera projects have become increasingly rare over time, his few directorial outings evince surprising control, refinement, insight, and taste. Despite his father's gainful employment as a history teacher, Thornton was forced to live with his parents and grandparents in a house without electricity or indoor plumbing. So Thornton returned to his job for awhile until he and Epperson renewed their dedication to a music career. Eventually, he would travel to California to write screenplays. It was a difficult time for Thornton who, in addition to living in poverty, also suffered a near-fatal heart attack.
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Billy Bob began his artistic career as a musician, playing drums and singing in a band called Tres Hombres, which once opened for Hank Williams Jr. In , he moved to Los Angeles with childhood friend Tom Epperson to pursue an acting and writing career. On the side, Billy Bob also sought work as a singer and drummer. He and Epperson tried for years to sell their scripts but no one was buying. During those rough times, Billy Bob neglected his health and subsequently landed in the hospital with heart problems due to malnutrition.
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He won an Academy Award for his screenplay of Sling Blade Thornton grew up in rural Arkansas. He played in various bands in high school and worked a number of menial jobs after graduation. In he enrolled in Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but dropped out to pursue a musical career in New York City; however, he quickly returned to Arkansas. In he moved to Los Angeles , where he hoped to pursue work as a writer and actor. There he supported himself with low-wage jobs until he started to land small roles in television and film. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. In addition to penning the screenplay, Thornton directed and starred in the film. Sling Blade —in which a mentally handicapped man, who as a boy killed his mother and her lover, is released from a mental hospital in the rural South and returns to life in his hometown—earned Thornton an Oscar for best screenplay and another nomination for best actor. Though Thornton was not a prototypically handsome leading man, by the late s he had established himself as a talented and versatile actor.
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