The Greatest Living American Actor at 85

Gene Hackman Is Retired But Still in Charge

By Steven Hyden

The Gene Hackman performance that sticks with me the most didn’t occur in one of his 79 films, but rather in a profile written by Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1971. Hackman stopped in town on the way to a family reunion in Danville, Illinois, where the Hackman clan settled after wandering across four different states during Gene’s early childhood. Hackman later escaped the Midwest by talking his way into the Marines at 16, and after he was discharged four and a half years later, he wandered some more, living briefly in New York, Florida, back in Danville, then back to New York, and then back to the state where he was born, California, where he was enrolled at and swiftly dismissed from the Pasadena Playhouse. Then Hackman wandered more still, back again to New York and a string of odd jobs that propped up his acting ambitions.

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