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Billy Bob Thornton - Biography

Everything you need to know about Billy Bob Thornton's Hollywood career and marriage to ex Angelina Jolie

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Kate Thomas
Lifestyle Managing Editor
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"I like outcasts of society," says Billy Bob Thornton. "I've felt like one myself. Still do. I'm a fairly normal person really, contrary to what they write in the papers. Fairly normal. But I kind of don't fit in."

Billy Bob made it by playing an outcast character he had nurtured for a decade, murderer called Karl Childers. Up till then, he had got by landing minor parts in low-budget films and TV shows. It was while he was portraying a five-line role in the 1987 cable movie The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains that Billy Bob had his moment of inspiration.

Angered because he felt the director was telling him to overact, the actor devised the character of Karl and improvised a monologue for him. He later performed the monologue as part of a one-man stage show and committed it to celluloid in 1994 to help fund Sling Blade, the feature-length version of the story he wrote, directed and starred in.

1883 star billy bob thornton major news
Billy Bob Thornton recently starred in 1886

Billy Bob Thornton's Hollywood career

Virtually overnight, Billy Bob became Hollywood's hottest new talent. He was nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay at the 1997 Academy Awards, while his The Apostle co-star, Robert Duvall, dubbed him a "hillbilly Orson Welles" high praise indeed from such an accomplished Hollywood performer. Born on August 4, 1955, in the town of Alpine in rural Arkansas where he earned the distinction of being the county's biggest baby Billy Bob was the eldest of three sons of Billy Ray and Virginia Thornton.

His father, a high school teacher and basketball coach, died of lung cancer when he was 18. Virginia was a homemaker and psychic who once predicted he would work with Burt Reynolds. (Her vision came true in 1990 when the actor appeared in three episodes of Evening Shade with the Boogie Nights star.) Billy Bob says she was, "the main person who encouraged me to become whatever I wanted to be."

He started acting while in high school, but his first love at the time was music. After graduating, he took a series of dead-end jobs while trying to make it as a drummer. In 1977, he and boyhood pal Tom Epperson headed for New York City to become, respectively, a rock star and a novelist. They lasted just ten hours before heading back to Arkansas in disgrace. Four years later the two set out again, this time intent on making their fortune in Los Angeles. They wrote scripts and picked up odd jobs, but for 12 years success remained elusive.

At one point Billy Bob was so broke he ate nothing but raw potatoes for three weeks, ending up in hospital suffering from starvation. With help from friends, he landed a few small parts and made his feature debut in 1988's direct-to-video release Hunter's Blood. After a brief turn as a soldier in the Bette Middler vehicle For The Boys, Billy Bob had his first brush with the creative-control side of the movie business, making the critically lauded One False Move with Epperson in 1991. With Billy Bob's stock in Hollywood on the rise, the film's minor success allowed him to sell the idea of Sling Blade, the script which he had handwritten on the sets of various productions.

Billy Bob's career exploded in the aftermath of the film's release. He signed a three-picture deal with Miramax and was suddenly one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. He was nearly unrecognisable as a psychotic mechanic in U-Turn in 1997, popped up as a wily political advisor in Primary Colors and portrayed the mission control leader in the summer blockbuster Armageddon.

Billy Bob Thornton's relationship with Angelina Jolie

angelina jolie billy bob thornton© Photo: Getty Images
Billy Bob was previously married to Hollywood star Angelina Jolie

While on the set of the 1999 comedy Pushing Tin, Billy Bob met and fell in love with Angelina Jolie. The two were married in Las Vegas in May 2000 and adopted a Cambodian child, Maddox, in 2002. Just months after Maddox's arrival in the US, however, the couple's relationship appeared to be in trouble.

He recently opened up about their split, insisting the pair are still good friends and even addressing the controversy that emerged around the pair's blood necklaces, saying the description of the jewelry was exaggerated by the media.

Following a period of estrangement, Billy Bob, who has three other children from earlier relationships, headed off on tour, and in July 2002 Angelina filed for divorce. The multi-talented actor's family increased again in 2004 when he and girlfriend Connie Angland celebrated the arrival of a little girl, Bella.

More recently, Billy Bob guest starred in hit Paramount+ series, 1883, playing Marshal Jim Courtright. He is also set to star in a new streaming show on Paramount+, titled Land Man. It is inspired by the 11-part Texas Monthly podcast, Boomtown, which went into depth about the historical oil fields of the Permian Basin.

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