Tragic Details About Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman had a long and successful movie career that made him a Hollywood legend. Despite his struggles getting into show business and his reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, the California native made film after film — as well TV shows — during a career that spanned almost five decades. With movies like "The French Connection" and "Unforgiven," Hackman's time as an actor was filled with unforgettable and gritty performances that even led to him winning two Academy Awards.

As of this writing, Hackman has not acted in 18 years. Per his IMDb, his last film was the 2004 comedy, "Welcome to Mooseport." The "Hoosier" star decided to retire from Hollywood in the mid 2000s and seemingly hasn't looked back since. However, it appears he did truly enjoy his craft. He explained to Empire, "When I'm actually on the set or on a stage, actually doing the work, I loved that process and I loved the creative process of trying to bring a character to life." He did hint at what led to his retirement though, adding, "The business part of show business is kinda wicked."

The father-of-three also didn't always have the easiest life. In fact, that "Heartbreakers" actor has faced many obstacles and tough times that started as early as his childhood. Since Hackman is known for being a tough guy though, even his biggest fans may not know what he's actually been through. So let's break down the tragic details of Gene Hackman.

Gene Hackman had a tough childhood

From his own accounts, it appears Gene Hackman didn't really have a happy childhood. The "Heist" star was born in San Bernardino, California in 1930, but moved around a lot because of his father's job in the newspaper business. According to The Independent, the family eventually had to move in with Hackman's grandparents in Danville, Illinois. It was there, per the Chicago Tribune, where he was impacted by the murder-suicide of a beloved neighbor. Despite his young age, he recalled, "I knew something really bad had happened."

By age 13, Hackman's life was forever changed again when his father left the family after his parents divorced. Hackman told Vanity Fair that his dad said goodbye with nothing more than a wave while driving down the street. He reflected, "It was a real adios," adding, "Maybe that's why I became an actor. I doubt I would have become so sensitive to human behavior if that hadn't happened to me as a child — if I hadn't realized how much one small gesture can mean."

Hackman seemed to have a complicated relationship with his father. The "Antz" actor admitted that when it came to his punishments, "He always went too far. Laid it on pretty heavy." Hackman revealed that because of that, as a child he created his own sanctuary in the form of a cardboard box in their basement. He told GQ, "I made myself a haven. Silly ... But it was my space."

The French Connection star struggled as a teen

Gene Hackman's father walking out on his family seemingly made the star's teen years even more difficult. Hackman explained on "Larry King Live" (via CNN), "I wasn't bitter. Disappointed, certainly. Hurt ... I loved him."  However, Hackman did point out (per The Independent) that "dysfunctional families have sired a number of pretty good actors."

When it came to his time at school, his life apparently wasn't much better, since Hackman often kept to himself. He dished to Vanity Fair, "I'd grown up shy — not unusual for actors." He noted it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, though, adding, "I think because I was shy I felt insecure, and acting seemed like a way of maybe getting around that."

Despite Hackman reportedly never going to school functions or out on dates, he did manage to get into trouble. He even spent the night in jail as a teen for stealing candy and soda from a store, and eventually quit school when he got into a physical fight with the basketball coach. From there, Hackman started to lie about his age so he could join the Marines at 16. That didn't go as planned though, with Hackman admitting, "I was not a good marine. I made corporal once and was promptly busted." He summed up, "I have trouble with direction, because I just have always had trouble with authority." Hackman was later discharged after a bad motorcycle accident.

His career started out rocky

Gene Hackman knew from a young age that he wanted to be an actor, recalling (per Deseret News) that it was "something I wanted to do since I was 10 and saw my first movie." However, his journey to become one was not smooth and he was often discouraged. For example, Hackman was voted "least likely to succeed" in an acting class, and later admitted, "I was not considered one of their most promising students."

He also had a hard time when he moved to New York City to act. He explained to Vanity Fair, "No one starts at the top in the theater, and the bottom is a very ugly place." The "Lucky Lady" star had to take an array of odd jobs just to make ends meet, ranging from a furniture mover to a "relief man" at a drugstore, where he says they "treated you like crapola." 

At one point, while Hackman was working as a hotel doorman, he recalled running into a former Marine officer who told him, "Hackman, you're a sorry son of a b****." Another time, a former acting instructor apparently also saw him there and reasserted his belief that Hackman "wouldn't amount to anything." Yet, he never let those insults nor the countless rejections for roles stop him. He dished, "I wasn't going to let those f****** get me down. I insisted with myself that I would continue to do whatever it took to get a job."

His mother was killed in a house fire

Gene Hackman appeared to have a close relationship with his mother, Lydia Hackman. According to GQ, she would often take her son to the cinema, his favorite place. She was also the one who encouraged him to pursue acting. Gene recalled on "Larry King Live" (via CNN), "My mother and I were at a film once ... and she said, 'I want to see you do that someday.' And that was all that was needed ... you have to have somebody tell you, or you need to be pushed a bit." 

Sadly, in 1962, Lydia died in a house fire. She had apparently fallen asleep with a lit cigarette and set the mattress a blaze, The Independent reported. The "Superman" actor was presumably devastated, particularly since he had been raised mainly by his mother after his father left the family when he was 13.

What made things even harder for Gene, though, was that Lydia never got to see him in a film, which is something he reportedly always regretted. He explained to GQ, "In some cases you pick up on things that your parent would like to see you have done. Unfortunately my mom never saw me act, so I'm sorry for that, but that's the way it is." He added he would have loved to show her his film, "I Never Sang for My Father," saying, "I think she would have been proud and happy to see that."

Fame strained his relationship with his family

Once Gene Hackman found success in Hollywood, he experienced the downside of fame, which, for him, was damaged relationships with his family. The person most impacted appeared to be Hackman's first wife, Faye Maltese, who had been with him before he became a star. The couple divorced in 1986 after 30 years, and Hackman told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, "We just drifted apart." He also blamed his career, saying, "We lost sight of each other. When you work in this business, marriage takes a great deal of work and love."

Around the same time of his divorce, he was promoting the film "Twice in a Lifetime," which was about a man who left his wife. However, Hackman didn't like the comparison, explaining, "I don't want to exploit my children," and adding that it "made it a bitter experience to go through again in the film ... I couldn't help feel that pain again."

Hackman has also been open about how his career affected his relationship with his children. When asked by GQ about advice he'd give his son, he admitted, "I lost touch with my son in terms of advice early on." He continued, "Maybe it had to do with being gone so much, doing location films when he was at an age where he needed support and guidance." According to Closer Weekly, Hackman is regretful of that, with an unnamed source dishing, "He wishes he'd been around more for his children."

The Royal Tenenbaums actor had health struggles

Gene Hackman has definitely had his fair share of health struggles over the years. The AP reported that "The Royal Tenenbaums" actor just "narrowly averted [a] heart attack" in 1990 after checking into a Portland hospital with chest pains. The cardiologist who treated him revealed,″We think we got him just in the nick of time." He even added that if they didn't do the "coronary angiogram" when they did, "the artery would have completely shut down."

A year later, in 1991, Hackman dished (per The Oklahoman) that his heart problems led him to slow down in his career. He stated, "I probably will be cutting down. I have been off for eight months now. I don't miss it as much as I thought I would." In 2009, he told Empire that he eventually retired all together because of his health. Hackman claimed, "The straw that broke the camel's back was actually a stress test that I took in New York," which had apparently made it clear he needed to take it easy.

Hackman faced another blow in 2012, when, at 81-years-old, he was struck by a pickup truck while cycling in Florida. According to the Daily Mail, the Florida Highway Patrol reported that the actor had "suffered body and leg injuries" and had to be airlifted to a hospital. Despite officials telling CNN that Hackman's injuries were "serious," his publicist later minimized the accident as "minor bumps and bruises." 

Acting brought Gene Hackman stress

While acting has always been Gene Hackman's passion, life in Hollywood reportedly caused the "Get Shorty" actor a lot of stress as well, so much so that it ultimately led him to leave the business. Hackman told Empire, "The doctor advised me that my heart wasn't in the kind of shape that I should be putting it under any stress." He added, "With my health, I decided I didn't want to do that any longer."

Yet, sadly, Hackman did seem to miss work. He told Time in 2011, "I still have a bit of a wanderlust about it. We live in Santa Fe, N.M., and they do a lot of films here ... I will see the wagons on the side of the roads sometimes, and I'd like to go talk to somebody, but I don't."

Hackman had apparently previously let show business get the better of his mental health. He recalled a particularly difficult time to Cigar Aficionado, after his success in the "The French Connection." He explained, "I did four or five films in a row that were not successful commercially ... And then when they didn't work, I thought, 'Well to hell with this, I'll just do whatever's given to me. I don't have to read the script.'" He continued, "I make it sound like I didn't care but I cared a great deal." While Hackman eventually hired a new agent, he hasn't forgotten how "it was a very tough time."

The Unforgiven actor allegedly became a recluse in his retirement

Since Gene Hackman left Hollywood, he has been reportedly laying low in New Mexico with his second wife, Betsy Arakawa. However, an unnamed source told The Globe that the situation was more dire than it sounded, saying, "He's a sad recluse who rarely goes out anymore with only the occasional sighting of Gene in his pickup truck." The insider added, "He is spending what should be the sunset of his life seeing no one other than his wife Betsy."

Whether that's true or not, Hackman did tell GQ in 2011 that the only way he'd ever do a new movie was "If I could do it in my own house, maybe, without them disturbing anything and just one or two people." It seems that Hackman prefers to focus on his writing instead, particularly because he can keep more to himself. He told Reuters, "I like the loneliness of it, actually. It's similar in some ways to acting, but it's more private."

Regardless of how Hackman is spending his final days, he does know how he wants to be remembered, which is "As a decent actor," and "As someone who tried to portray what was given to them in an honest fashion." It seems Hackman will be remembered as more than just a "decent actor." He is, in fact, a great one, who managed to overcome the tragedies in his life and leave a lasting mark on the film industry.