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|Also Known As:||Wilfred Bailey Bixby||Died:||November 21, 1993|
|Born:||January 22, 1934||Cause of Death:||prostate cancer|
|Birth Place:||San Francisco, California, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor director amateur magician model|
As one of the most recognizable faces on television for more than two decades, actor-director Bill Bixby became associated with an admirable strength of character, not only in his roles, but in his personal life as well. As an actor new to Hollywood, he quickly picked up a number of small guest parts on series before landing his first starring role on the fantasy sitcom "My Favorite Martian" (CBS, 1963-66) opposite Ray Walston as the titular alien. He also appeared in several films in the mid-1960s, including the Elvis Presley musical-comedy "Speedway" (1968), before starring on the endearing family series "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (ABC, 1969-1972). From there Bixby went on to the short-lived, yet fondly remembered adventure series "The Magician" (NBC, 1973-74). By this time he was also working regularly as a director on such projects as the miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man - Book II" (ABC, 1976-77). His most recognizable role, however, was as Dr. David Banner on "The Incredible Hulk" (CBS, 1978-1982). Later in his career, Bixby's outwardly charmed life suffered a series of devastating blows after Brenda Benet, his wife of nearly 10 years, divorced him, his only child died unexpectedly, and Benet later committed suicide, all within a three-year period. When he publicly announced his battle against prostate cancer in the early 1990s, it came as no surprise to anyone that Bixby chose to live his final years just has he had his entire life - with optimism, courage and dignity.
Born Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III on Jan. 22, 1934 in San Francisco, CA, he was the only child of Jane Bixby and Wilfred Bailey Everett II, who both worked in the retail industry. Bixby began his love affair with drama and public speaking early on, joining the prestigious Lowell Forensic Society while attending Lowell High School. After graduation in 1952, he studied drama at San Francisco City College for a time, prior to attending the University of California, Berkeley. Just short of his degree, Bixby enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after receiving his draft notice to the Army during the Korean War. Upon completing his military service stateside, he worked in a string of odd jobs until he was hired in Detroit, MI for commercial and modeling work for Chrysler and General Motors in 1959. Bixby made his stage debut at the Detroit Civic Theater in a production of the musical "The Boy Friend," prior to making the move to Hollywood in pursuit of a legitimate acting career. Naturally blessed with good looks and trained in oration, Bixby was soon landing guest starring roles on television series that included the comedy "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1959-1963) and the medical drama "Ben Casey" (ABC, 1961-66). Soon afterward he also made his feature film debut with a small turn in Kirk Douglas' modern day requiem for the Western, "Lonely are the Brave" (1962).
Bixby, by now working with regularity, received his first major break when he won a co-starring role alongside veteran funny man Ray Walston on the sci-fi sitcom "My Favorite Martian" (CBS, 1963-66). For three seasons as nervous, nosy reporter Tim O'Hara, Bixby hilariously attempted to keep the fact that his "Uncle Martin" (Walston) was in fact Exigius 12 ½, a Martian anthropologist stranded on Earth. Prior to the confirmed success of his new series, Bixby continued to rack up more credits with small roles on various series and in features, including a brief cameo in the Jack Lemmon-Shirley MacLaine romantic comedy "Irma la Douce" (1963). And although "My Favorite Martian" ended in 1966, the in-demand actor kept extremely busy with more television and film appearances, in addition to a pair of roles alongside Elvis Presley in a pair of lightweight romps, "Clambake" (1967) and "Speedway" (1968). Bixby landed his second series lead in the heart-warming comedy-drama "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (ABC, 1969-1972). One of several single parent comedies airing at the time, "Courtship" had a more contemporary milieu, with newly-widowed Tom Corbett (Bixby) trying to run his high-profile magazine while raising his young son (Brandon Cruz), and simultaneously dipping his toes back into the Los Angeles dating scene.
Bixby's popular show - which featured the iconic theme song "Best Friend" by Harry Nilsson - marked several personal and professional milestones for the actor. Looking to expand his creative horizons, Bixby made his directorial debut on the second season of "Courtship," ultimately going on to helm eight episodes. The show also marked the first time he appeared on screen with his then-wife, actress Brenda Benet, who would act alongside him in several other projects over the course of their marriage. Much to Bixby's dismay, "Courtship" ended after three seasons, although it was not long before he landed another headlining role in the adventure series "The Magician" (NBC, 1973-74). Cast as philanthropic illusionist Anthony Blake, Bixby helped those in need, using his skills in prestidigitation and substantial financial means. The series was well-liked and spurred a life-long interest in magic for Bixby. Unfortunately, a 1973 writers strike and high production costs spelled the show's demise after a single season. The disappointing setback, however, did little to slow down the actor-director, who appeared in the Disney family comedy "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (1975), starring alongside funnymen Don Knotts and Tim Conway. Switching gears with ease, Bixby also appeared in the hugely popular TV miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man" (ABC, 1976), before going on to direct installments of the sequel "Rich Man, Poor Man - Book II" (ABC, 1976-77).
Working harder than ever, Bixby co-starred with Bo Hopkins in the Western "The Invasion of Johnson County" (NBC, 1976), and had a supporting role in "The Great Houdini" (ABC, 1976), starring Paul Michael Glaser as the master escape artist. Having happily established himself as a television actor, he made his final film appearance with a cameo in John Landis' raunchy cult comedy "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977). Bixby's quest for a new series to star in hit unexpected pay dirt with an action-adventure show based on a popular superhero comic book. On "The Incredible Hulk" (CBS, 1978-1982), he played Dr. David Banner, a brilliant scientist and fugitive from the law, desperately in search of a cure for the condition that, in times of intense anger, turned him into a hulking green-skinned "monster" (Lou Ferrigno). Despite having initially scoffed at the project, "Hulk" went on to become a huge success worldwide, with Banner's signature line "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," becoming an oft-quoted catchphrase for legions of fans. Bixby's emotionally heightened portrayal of Banner grounded the show's more cartoonish aspects and elevated it above the pulpy, disposable entertainment that even he had feared it might become. So influential was Bixby's characterization, that he was later paid tribute in the big budget film adaptation "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), in a scene in which Banner (Edward Norton) absently watches Bixby in an episode of "The Courtship of Eddie's Father."
As his hit show neared the end of its run and the new decade began, Bixby was rocked by a series of increasingly tragic and heartbreaking events. After nearly 10 years of marriage, he and Benet were divorced in 1980. The following year, Bixby and Benet's only child, Christopher, died suddenly after complications due to a rare throat infection while of vacation. In 1982, an emotionally fragile Benet committed suicide following the end of a romantic relationship with future radio host Tammy Bruce. Devastated and alone, Bixby threw himself into his work when he headlined the newsroom sitcom "Goodnight, Beantown" (CBS, 1983-84), co-starring longtime friend Mariette Hartley. Bixby also executive produced the above average show in addition to directing several episodes before its untimely cancellation. Interspersed with various other work, he reprised the role of Banner and directed all three post-series movies - "The Incredible Hulk Returns" (NBC, 1988), "The Trial of the Incredible Hulk" (NBC, 1989), and "The Death of the Incredible Hulk" (NBC, 1990). Further exploits of the green goliath had been planned, but were scrapped in the early 1990s when an ailing Bixby publicly announced that he was battling an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Vowing to fight the disease, Bixby underwent aggressive, experimental therapy treatments, which for a time pushed the cancer into remission. Sadly, it would return within the year, at which time doctors diagnosed his condition as terminal. Having stated that he wished to continue to work until he was physically unable, Bixby became the primary director on 30 episodes of the popular teen sitcom "Blossom" (NBC, 1990-95) during its third and fourth seasons. Bixby married his third wife, Judith Kliban, shortly before collapsing on the set of "Blossom" while filming. Less than one week later he died from complications due to prostate cancer on Nov. 21, 1993. He was 59 years old.
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