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Profiles of Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thornton

Aired July 27, 2002 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, one of the silver screen's most bankable action stars.


KRISTEN SCOTT THOMAS, ACTRESS: He sort of epitomizes manliness, I suppose.


ANNOUNCER: He's come a long way from living the life of a struggling actor.


HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: I found that Los Angeles has actually more use for good carpenters than fair actors.


ANNOUNCER: He's played the role of hero on and off the screen.


ANNE-MARIE O'NEILL, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: He does have a helicopter hanging around and he's willing to get in it and fly off and help people out.


ANNOUNCER: Now, he's romancing "Ally McBeal", reluctant movie star Harrison Ford. Then, he's a Hollywood heavyweight on both sides of the camera.


MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Just one of those people I admired from the first time I saw his movie, "Sling Blade" and realized that he had done it all.


ANNOUNCER: From the back roads of Arkansas to Angelina Jolie and what was one of Tinseltown's quirkiest couples. Now, a much-rumored split becomes a reality.


CYNTHIA SANZ, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: There was obviously trouble brewing. They hadn't been in the same town in months.


ANNOUNCER: The different beat that drives Billy Bob Thornton. Their stories and more now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, I'm Paula Zahn. Harrison Ford is the biggest box office star ever with his movies earning a total of $3.2 billion. And Ford's done so by cornering the market on heroes, think Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan and that's just for starters. But in his latest film, "K-19: The Widowmaker," Ford is playing against type, something he's been doing in his personal life as well. Here's Bill Hemmer.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harrison Ford may be a 60-year-old grandfather...

FORD: Break for impact!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Break for impact!

HEMMER: ... but in his latest film, "K-19," he is very much the man in charge.

FORD: I took this boat and these men to the edge because we need to know where it is.

HEMMER: He's intense. He's macho and in the eyes of Hollywood, he is still the leading man.

THOMAS: He sort of epitomizes manliness, I suppose.

BRIAN DENNEHY, ACTOR: He's a movie star in the same sense that Gary Cooper was a movie star or Humphrey Bogart. They're tough, reliable substantial people, genuine American alpha males.

PAT MCQUEENEY, FORD'S AGENT: Men don't feel threatened by him and women, of course, are just absolutely mad for him.

HEMMER: One woman apparently mad for Ford is actress Calista Flockhart. The two have recently been the subject of a lot of show biz tattle. But Hollywood buzz and publicity, in general, is something that makes this reluctant movie star bristle.

DENNEHY: He doesn't really feel comfortable talking about himself and -- which makes you wonder why the hell he's in this business in the first place, you know, because that's what we all do. But that's what makes him such an interesting character. One of the things that makes him such an interesting character. He puts it on the screen, which is where it should be.

HEMMER: He's been putting it on the screen for 25 years in films like "Clear and Present Danger..."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm appointing Ryan the acting deputy director of intelligence.

HEMMER: ... drawing in box office dollars with every scene he films.

ROZEN: Whether it's with the spaceship in "Star Wars," whether it's "Indiana Jones", he's now going to get the bad guys.

FORD: I'm going after that truck.


FORD: I don't know. I'm making this up as I go.

ROZEN: The same thing in "Air Force One," years later when he single-handedly as the president has to, you know, whop the behinds of the terrorists.

FORD: Get off my plane!

HEMMER: Long before he was pushing bad guys from airplanes, Harrison Ford was himself pushed around, as a shy schoolboy in suburban Chicago.

FORD: The school was built level with the road, about 20 or 30 feet above surrounding soybean fields and it was the school sport at recess for some period of time to push me over the edge of the embankment and for me to crawl back up only to be pushed down again.

HEMMER: In 1960, after a lackluster high school career, he entered Wisconsin's Ripon College.

FORD: I was a philosophy and English major. My grade point average was unspectacular. And in searching around for a class to take that would help me get my grade point average up, I came across drama, not realizing that one of the requirements of this course in drama was that I participate in a school play, that I act, get up on stage and act. I thought that it was simply to study plays. And when I first was required to be on stage, I was incredibly nervous. My knees were shaking and people could see it from the back of the theater, which gave me an obstacle to overcome.

HEMMER: His knees did not shake for long. After three college plays, Ford not only mastered his stage fright, but he also found his calling.

FORD: I had a degree of success in college. I had a good time doing it. I was encouraged to continue.

HEMMER: He also found a girlfriend, classmate and fellow actress, Mary Marquardt. The young performer had plenty of passion for acting, but apparently, none for schoolwork. After failing to complete several key assignments, Ford flunked out of Ripon College. He quickly found work as a summer stock performer at a local Wisconsin theater, splitting his focus on acting and his girlfriend, Mary. The couple tied the knot in the middle of the season.

BILL FUSIK, COMMUNITY THEATER DIRECTOR: I think he had a matinee that day and he ran off and they were about to get married and got back for the evening performance or something along that line. I know it was a rushed thing.

HEMMER: In the fall of 1964, Ford wrapped up his performances at the local theater. Now, a married man, he pondered earning a living as an actor.

FORD: All I knew about acting was that you had either to go to New York or Los Angeles to get paid for it. And Mary and I put all of our possessions in her Volkswagen Beetle. I loaded the cat and flipped a coin. It did come up New York, so we made it two out of three.

HEMMER: In California, Ford met up with Bill Fusik, the theater director from his summer stock days in Wisconsin. Fusik was casting roles for a play at the Laguna Beach Playhouse. Harrison got a part, but was hardly on his way. The next few months were an exercise in humiliation and in frustration. He was turned down repeatedly after reading for countless roles. It was also during this period that a minor car accident left Ford with his trademark scar. Having suffered insult and injury and desperate to make ends meet, the determined actor carved out a niche.

FORD: I found that Los Angeles had actually more use for good carpenters than fair actors.

HEMMER: Armed only with his experience building sets in theater class, Ford offered up his services as a carpenter.

RICHARD FLEISCHER, DIRECTOR: Harrison came on the job mainly to build our bookcases. We have a lot of bookcases here. He did some of the framing for the room. He did a lot of work, but the main thing really was the bookcases, and he did a wonderful job with those.


HEMMER: When we come back, the carpenter gets angry.


MCQUEENEY: Harrison has so much dignity that he did like being humiliated at all so he was cranky all the time.


ANNOUNCER: Also ahead, his marriage to a movie starlet was fodder for tabloids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They talked about having matching burial plots and wearing vials of each other's blood. So they really did seem to like being in the spotlight.


ANNOUNCER: The story of Billy Bob Thornton, how his sizzling relationship finally cooled, later on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.




HEMMER (voice-over): In 1966, Harrison Ford was finally making a name for himself through his craft.

SERGIO MENDEZ, RECORDING ARTIST: As I recall him telling me that, "Yeah, I'm going to be an actor." And as you know, in Hollywood, everybody's going to be an actor. So I said, "OK, can you please finish the studio?"

HEMMER: Though there was a baby on the way, he had grown jaded and sullen from Hollywood rejection. It was through a contact at the community theater where Ford first worked in L.A., where the brooding actor finally got his big break, an audition with the head of new talent at Columbia Pictures. His first role was a 40 second appearance in the film, "Dead Heat on A Merry-Go-Round".

FORD: Paging Mr. Ellis.

HEMMER: Columbia's director of new talent was less than impressed with the performance.

FORD: He saw my appearance as a bellboy, called me into his office and said, "Look, I don't think you're going to make it in this business. You might as well give it up." He said -- and by way of explanation, he told me that when Tony Curtis was first in a movie, he delivered a bag of groceries and he emphasized that -- he delivered a bag of groceries and you took one look at that person and you knew that was a movie star. And I leaned across his desk and said, "I thought you were supposed to think it was a grocery delivery boy." And of course, he threw me out of his office.

HEMMER: In 1970, a casting director referred Harrison Ford to Patricia McQueeney, an agent specializing in up and coming actors.

MCQUEENEY: He was difficult to represent. Harrison has so much dignity that he did not like being humiliated at all. So he was cranky all the time. He would go out on appointments and scare the casting directors to death and they'd call me up and they'd say, "Pat, why did you send that surly guy in here? He didn't want to be here. I thought he was going to punch me out."

HEMMER: He may have scared casting directors, but he also got parts mostly in TV shows like "Gunsmoke".

FORD: I had decided that I was wearing out my face doing episodic television, playing the same kind of character over and over again.

MCQUEENEY: I would bring him a script and he'd say, "I'm not going to go do that. I'll go build a cabinet." And I'd say, "But Harrison, they're offering you $30,000." He'd say, "I don't care. I'm not doing it. It's a piece of " -- and he'd use a nice word.

HEMMER: Ford was holding out for feature films, a strategy that paid off with George Lucas's 1973 film "American Graffiti".

FORD: Hey, you're supposed to be the best thing in the valley man, but...

HEMMER: Harrison played the part of Bob Falfa, a rough drag racer who sported a cowboy hat. The film marked a beginning of a relationship with director, George Lucas, a relationship that would blast Ford's career to intergalactic heights.

"Star Wars," still one of the highest grossing movies of all time and "lightening in a bottle" for the 35-year-old Harrison Ford.

FORD: Look...

HEMMER: He played the swaggering mercenary, Han Solo.

ROZEN: He was the most charismatic figure in the film. He was a man's man. He was an adventurer. He had a rugged sense of humor. He was the guy you most wanted to be in that movie.

HEMMER: If "Star Wars" thrust Harrison Ford to stardom, "Raiders of The Lost Ark" cemented his place. In the dynamic role of "Indiana Jones," he rode and climbed and fought his way into global pop culture.

FORD: The character of Indiana Jones gave me the opportunity to express the enthusiasm that the character had for his life, his indomitability. I never considered myself indomitable, but I knew how to pretend it. I never thought myself brave, but I knew how to represent it.

DENNEHY: He shows a certain uncertainty about himself at critical times in the movies, so that we worry for him. We care about him. We want him to succeed. We want him to come through.

IVAN REITMAN, DIRECTOR: I always thought that Harrison had this sort of wonderfully endearing grumpy side, you know. And he uses this grumpiness both to frighten people and to make them laugh.

HEMMER: Since "Raiders of The Lost Ark," Harrison Ford has played 17 different roles ranging from conflicted lawman John Book in "Witness," the only role for which he was ever nominated for an Oscar, to the intrepid doctor on the limb in the movie, "The Fugitive". But the long periods away on location took a toll. Shortly after the release of "Star Wars," Harrison Ford and Mary Marquardt divorced.

MCQUEENEY: He said, "I will be divorced to Mary for the rest of my life," which I think is just an incredibly great ion, I think. You know, I think every woman in America should have Harrison Ford as their ex-husband, if they should all be so lucky because he's, you know, so warm and so kind to her and they're such good friends.

HEMMER: In 1983, Ford married Melissa Mathison the screenwriter who penned that blockbuster film, "E.T." Some felt they seemed like the ideal show biz couple. Harrison Ford was then a man in full, an A-list actor, the toast of Tinsel town, a town he really wanted no part of.

O'NEILL: As a younger man, he had to be part of it to a degree, you know, to make his career. Now, he's reached a stage that he doesn't need it.


HEMMER: Coming up, Indiana Jones meets Ally McBeal.


O'NEILL: The story goes that Calista saw Harrison and wanted to meet him and decided she would spill her drink on him.


ZAHN: "Star Wars" made Harrison Ford a household name and a box office draw, but what about his intergalactic co-stars? Where are they now?


ANNOUNCER: The force was with 25-year-old Mark Hamill when he tried out for "Star Wars." He had only appeared in television in bit parts before landing the lead role in "Star Wars" as young Jedi, Luke Skywalker. So where is Mark Hamill today? Hamill stayed busy in different acting gigs, making guest appearances on TV shows like "Just Shoot Me." He has also found quite a niche doing voice over work in cartoons like "Scooby Doo" and "Batman." On "Batman," though, he has joined the dark side. Hamill is the voice of the Joker.

While growing up in the spotlight as the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, 20-year-old Carrie Fisher could not have expected the fame she got playing Princess Leia. So where is Carrie Fisher now? Well, she's still acting in movies like "Jay" and "Silent Bob Strike Back." Fisher has found success in writing. She has penned several novels, including the autobiography turned movie, "Postcards From The Edge." She is also a movie script doctor, working on such movies as "The Wedding Singer" and "Sister Act."

Well, General Lando Calrissan helped destroy the Death Star once, Billy Dee William's character will always live in euphony for selling out Han Solo in "The Empire Strikes Back." So where is Billy Dee Williams now? Williams has had other roles in blockbusters, playing "Harvey Dent" in the first "Batman" movie. He has also enjoyed success as an artist, painting projects for the 1996 Summer Olympics and the Arrowhead Pond Arena in Anaheim. We'll be right back.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about a big hand for Harrison Ford, ladies and gentlemen?

HEMMER (voice-over): By 1990, Harrison Ford was a fixture on movie screens, but on the Hollywood social scene, he was nowhere to be found.

O'NEILL: I think he's definitely become more distant from the Hollywood machine as the years have gone by.

HEMMER: When he's not in New York or on a film set, Ford spends a lot of time on his 800-acre ranch in Wyoming.

O'NEILL: I think, generally, he is a country guy. He is an outdoorsman. He loves the wilderness.

HEMMER: But his favorite place to be is up in the wild blue yonder.

FORD: I love the machines, the airplanes and helicopters. It's more than a pleasure. It's more than a hobby. It's one of the things I do.

HEMMER: Ford, occasionally, drops in on small airfields across the country and he's been known to rescue stranded people, including a lost Boy Scout in the Wyoming wilderness.

O'NEILL: He's basically made himself available to the forest rangers there, that if something goes wrong and they need some help, he does have a helicopter hanging around and he's willing to get in it and fly up and help people out.

HEMMER: If Ford likes to fly solo in the sky, he also prefers to be left alone while he' on the ground. He has an uncanny ability to lay low in public.

DENNEHY: You can go into a restaurant with Harrison. He puts on these glasses and he doesn't exist anymore. People just don't see him, don't notice him.

HEMMER: But when he is noticed, Harrison Ford handles his fans with grace.

THOMAS: So when people come up to him, he's just really -- he makes them feel that he's actually listening to them. I've always found him to be incredibly gracious and polite with people that I, frankly, want to throttle.

FORD: People are generally very kind to me and I consider those people to be my customers, the people who are supporting my life and my -- not just my -- financially, but they're supporting my artistic, if you will, life and I'm grateful to them.

HEMMER: Ford has four children, two from each of his marriages and he's always been close to his kids. But despite his devotion as a parent, Harrison separated from Melissa Mathison in 2001. Location shoots and other absences again taking their toll.

O'NEILL: They did try and get back together, which is kind of telling. They did reunite for a while and try and pull it together and you know, try and be together for the children and for themselves as well, but it just simply didn't work out.

HEMMER: Tight lipped about his private life, Ford is notoriously reticent in interviews.

FORD: I understand what the -- how this business works. I am willing to do it. I do it with as much grace and efficiency as I can muster, but it's not my favorite thing to do.

REITMAN: I think he's, generally, a very private man who sort of picks his friends very carefully.

HEMMER: One of Harrison Ford's friends, Calista Flockhart, has gotten a lot of attention.

O'NEILL: They're very much a couple. Their friends say that they are, you know clearly in love with each other.

HEMMER: Though nearly 23 years apart in age, the two actors hit it off when Flockhart spilled a drink on Ford at a Golden Globe's after party back in January.

O'NEILL: The story goes that Calista saw Harrison and wanted to meet him and decided that she would spill her drink on him.

HEMMER: An unusual introduction that led to what some say is a curious pairing.

O'NEILL: He's the big kind of -- plays the hero guy and she plays this like vulnerable, neurotic, tiny woman. But you know, they're real people. They're not those characters and so, maybe it's not as funny as it seems.

HEMMER: Harrison Ford is still a leading man with his new girlfriend and his new film, "K-19..."

FORD: We will not fail.

HEMMER: ... and despite the spotlight that stardom brings, this private celebrity has no plans to quit.

FORD: I have not found anything in my life, other than flying, that presents me with the kinds of opportunities and challenges and mental stimulation that acting does.

ROZEN: I'm guessing if Harrison Ford picks the right roles and plays it right, he can be the next Sean Connery.

FORD: Sean Connery continues to be viable leading man in action films. And Sean's even older that I am.


ZAHN: Harrison Ford is hoping to work with Sean Connery again soon on another "Indiana Jones" movie. Ford and Stephen Spielberg are planning a fourth installment of the series right now.

ANNOUNCER: When we return, Billy Bob Thornton romances an old love, music.


BILLY BOB THORNTON, ACTOR AND MUSICIAN: I guess I was always kind of a frustrated musician.


ANNOUNCER: But did hitting the road take a toll on his marriage when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.


ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton has a lot of talents, but marriage certainly isn't one of them. Matrimony has been a fickle mistress for Thornton even by Hollywood standards, case in point, Thornton's fifth and most famous wife, Angelina Jolie, has filed for divorce. The announcement ended weeks of speculation that the star couple's so-called deep and binding love had become unraveled. Here's Bruce Burkhardt.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a time, Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie seemed to revel in their roles as Hollywood's oddest couple -- the matching tattoos, the vials of blood, their self-proclaimed undying love on display for all to see.

SANZ: Whenever you saw Angelina and Billy Bob together on the red carpet, they really were all over each other. They were talking about their sex life. They were talking about how much they loved each other.

BURKHARDT: But it seemed that Billy Bob and Angelina's passionate romance was too hot not to cool down. Just two years after their whirlwind courtship and marriage, Jolie has filed for divorce, citing the ever-popular "irreconcilable differences."

SANZ: By the time that Angelina actually filed for divorce last week, it really wasn't that much of a surprise. There was trouble obviously brewing. They hadn't been in the same town in months. When they were in Los Angeles together, they were both living in separate hotels instead of at their own home.

BURKHARDT: Thornton and Jolie's breakup comes on the heels of the adoption of their new 11-month-old son, Maddox, from Cambodia. It's a life change that even as recently, as the end of May, Billy Bob was insisting had solidified his relationship with Angelina.

THORNTON: Well, of course, we just adopted this baby and he's another force that further stabilizes us as individuals and together and everything. And you know, when kids are in the picture, boy, I tell you, it really changes your life.

BURKHARDT: Apparently, it did change their lives, but instead of strengthening Thornton and Jolie's relationship, the arrival of Maddox appears to have led to difficulties. Jolie now reportedly admits their priorities changed overnight.

SANZ: Ever since Angelina brought the baby back, he's really been the center of her attention. And Billy Bob had other things he was focusing on.

BURKHARDT: In court documents, Jolie states that she and Thornton have been separated since June. The split came not only as Jolie brought home Maddox, but as Thornton hit the road in pursuit of what he has always called his first love -- his music. It's an obsession that may have put strains on his marriage, but, nevertheless, seemed to energize Thornton.

THORNTON: I love music and I'm inspired by music more than anything else, really. Oftentimes, in the entertainment field, you find that people who are actors would like to be rock stars and vice versa sometimes. And I guess I was always kind of a frustrated musician in a way.

BURKHARDT: With the release of his first CD "Private Radio" and the multicity tour, Thornton is no longer a frustrated musician. A mixture of good time country and '70s rock, Thornton's songs are, at times, very personal. They're based on many of his own life experiences.

THORNTON: I used to have all of these buddies that used to live with their mothers until they're about 40. And they would just lay around and smoke dope and watch cartoons all day. Anyway, I wrote a song about those guys called "Smoking in Bed."

Well, lightening bugs buzzing down the piss Elm tree. Well, I'm a 100 miles from reality. Well, take a big drag and suck it all in. I have to blow it out the window...

BURKHARDT: Growing up in the south and in Malvern, Arkansas, Billy Bob Thornton was naturally drawn to music, as were his friends, like Rick Dial, who still lives in Malvern and works at the local furniture store.

RICK DIAL, FRIEND: Back then if you could play three chords on a guitar, C, F and G, you could play half the songs that were popular back then. So there were a lot of bands in Malvern. As small as Malvern was, 10,000 people, there were probably 10 or 15 little rock- n-roll bands. I was in one. Billy Bob was in one.

THORNTON: So I was just raised in it and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was a country musician. You know I played in bands my whole life. I had my first band when I was just in elementary school.

BURKHARDT: The Thorntons came to Malvern as Billy Bob entered the third grade. He grew up on this street, in this house, the oldest of three brothers.

THORNTON: I was kind of a goofball when I was a kid. Yes, sir. Oh, I was kind of a nerdy kid, you know, thick black glasses and buck teeth. I was kind of like Ernie Douglas on "My Three Sons," you know.

BURKHARDT: If Thornton was awkward and a bit shy in his formative years, he found confidence and a new passion in his teens while attending Malvern High School.

DIAL: I believe that probably his entrance into acting was through the high school drama club, where he excelled, to say the least. I think back then -- I don't know if he took it as a lark or if he really, you know -- really wanted to do it, but it probably was the smartest move he ever made, was when he entered the drama class at Malvern.

BURKHARDT: Whatever Thornton's budding talents, acting or music, Malvern was a small town and held little opportunity. Life beyond high school promised to be difficult at best. Thornton was poor and a long way from Hollywood and New York.

THORNTON: When I was growing up, I worked in a sawmill. I shoveled asphalt for the Arkansas Highway Department, worked at machine shop, worked at a drill press. I worked at a screen door factory.

BURKHARDT: And Thornton did those jobs while still playing music at night and on the weekends, touring with various small bands around the south. It was a grind that was going nowhere. Something had to give.

THORNTON: And she said, "I want to go over that mountain before that day that I die."


BURKHARDT: When the story of Billy Bob Thornton continues, a country boy heads to Hollywood and into the hospital. Why Thornton almost never got to make "Sling Blade."



THORNTON: She came to this town. She steps out like a woman and took that boy to shame.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): Billy Bob Thornton commands a crowd in L.A. these days, whether he's on tour promoting his first CD "Private Radio" or walking down a red carpet. But Thornton's overnight success was more than 10 hard years in the making.

THORNTON: Well, I just went to California in 1981 just to, you know -- I was leaving Arkansas and just trying to make something out of myself. Yes, I got in a theater group, which the guy let me go for free because he knew I didn't have any money.

BURKHARDT: Already divorced, Thornton's struggles in Hollywood would cost him two more marriages and endanger his life. Longtime friends of Thornton back in his hometown of Malvern, Arkansas began to worry.

DIAL: I think he was out there probably 14 or 15 years doing just enough to get by. He worked at a Shaky's Pizza Place where he'd get what was left over the day before to come back to his little apartment. He would eat nothing but potatoes for a long time and got really ill because all he had on his diet was potatoes.

BURKHARDT: Thornton was hospitalized with heart problems due to malnutrition. But even at his lowest, Billy Bob didn't consider returning home.

THORNTON: I mean a lot of people say, "Why didn't you turn tail and run?" But I mean there wasn't really anything to go back to. I love Arkansas, but when I mean I was -- when I left to come to California, I was shoveling asphalt for the highway department. It wasn't like that was a great alternative, you know, as fun as that was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I see your license and registration?

BURKHARDT: Billy Bob Thornton's first critical success didn't come until 1992 when he co-wrote and starred in the small-budget film "One False Move" with his then third wife, Cynda Williams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get your hands up!

THORNTON: Hey, calm down. You said, "Get out." You first, man, right?

BURKHARDT: That same year, Thornton would find steady work on TV, thanks to fellow Arkansas natives Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth Thomason. The husband-and-wife producing team cast Thornton alongside John Ritter and Markie Post on the CBS sitcom, "Hearts Afire."

THORNTON: Ah, Senator, I think you're coming in a little too early. I think you're wearing yourself down.

BURKHARDT: It was also during this time that Thornton began to flesh out the role that would catapult him to stardom, the character of Karl Childers, a mentally retarded man with a moral code all his own, the beginnings of "Sling Blade."

THORNTON: The actual physicality of the character I came up with in the mirror, just looking at myself in the mirror. It wasn't like I set out to come up with a character that day, but I was just kind of goofing off in the mirror and it was, you know, sort of a sad day. And I just ended up doing that character, that voice and the face and everything.

BURKHARDT: Thornton shopped his idea for "Sling Blade" around Hollywood for several years before Miramax agreed to take a chance on the film. Finally, Thornton had his backing. He was going to make his movie and he was going to make a totally unexpected call back to Malvern, Arkansas, to Orr's Furniture and Rick Dial.

DIAL: I was sitting here in the store one day and he calls me on the phone and says, "I've written a movie called 'Sling Blade.' We're going to shoot it in Benton and I've written a part with you in mind. I want you to be in the movie." And I said, "You're out of your mind." I said, "I can't do that, don't even ask me to do it." He said, "I'm going to send you a script." I said, "Well, you can send me the script, but I'm not going to do that."

So a couple days later, here comes the script in the mail. I read the script. And he calls and he says, "How'd you like the script?" I said, "Well, the script's fine, Billy Bob, but I'm not going to do this. I don't know anything about acting." And he said, "Yeah, I know you can. I wrote it with you in mind." Finally, I decided, what the heck, you know. It's his money.

How you coming along with that garden tiller?

THORNTON: I fixed it. It's working pretty good now.

DIAL: You done fixed it? Well, I'll be damned. Scooter told me it couldn't be fixed.

BURKHARDT: Dial plays the owner of a small engine repair shop in "Sling Blade" where Thornton's character comes to work.

ROZEN: "Sling Blade" was clearly his breakthrough role. It was the first one that people -- the name "Billy Bob Thornton" started to mean something, and then he wins the Oscar for "Best Screenplay" and he was a star.

FREEMAN: Billy Bob was a very sharp, very intelligent actor, just one of the people I admired from the first time I saw his movie, "Sling Blade" and realized that he'd done it all.

BURKHARDT: After his Oscar win for "Sling Blade," Thornton seemed to be everywhere. In 1997, he co-starred in Oliver Stone's "U- Turn."

THORNTON: Well, it's your radiator. It's busted.

SEAN PENN, ACTOR: I know that. What did I just tell you?

THORNTON: Well, chief, if you so damn much, why don't you just fix it yourself, hell.

It's an asteroid, sir.

BURKHARDT: A year later, Thornton made a departure from his smaller, offbeat roles in the summer blockbuster...

ANNOUNCER: Armageddon.

THORNTON: It's what we call a global killer, the end of mankind.

ROZEN: I think Billy Bob did "Armageddon" because it was a huge, high profile, Jerry Bruckheimer film. He was actually fine in it, but you do that because you go, "Hi, I'm a Hollywood player. I'm going to collect a nice big paycheck for this, and doing this film is going to allow me to do some smaller ones."

BURKHARDT: Thornton did return to smaller, independent films, in 1998, appearing in Robert Duvall's "The Apostle."

THORNTON: That was real good. You kids are good.

I'm just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in the car.

BURKHARDT: Another film in 98, "A Simple Plan" garnered Thornton a Best-Supporting Oscar nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to leave tracks.

THORNTON: Wait a minute! This is my decision.

BURKHARDT: By this time, Thornton was divorced from his fourth wife Pietra Cherniak.

LARRY SUTTON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Pietra was the wife who was by his side at the Academy Awards when he won the award for Best Screenplay. She was all smiles. He was all smiles. But it was a matter of weeks before there were rumors that he was seeing Laura Dern, who was his co-star in another movie. And he had denied them at first and said there was nothing to it, but it turned out a few months later, yes, there was, and he left his wife for Laura Dern.

BURKHARDT: Thornton and Dern announced their engagement in 1999. They were going to marry later that year. But then came the movie "Pushing Tin" starring John Cusack and Angelina Jolie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then one by one, the stars were open wide.


BURKHARDT: When our look at Billy Bob Thornton continues, Billy Bob walks into an elevator. Angelina walks into his life and then back out.

ZAHN: Our profile of Billy Bob Thornton, his life, his loves and his losses will continue in a moment, but first, here's this week's "Passages."

ANNOUNCER: First it was Ozzy, then it was Anna Nicole. Now, it's Liza and David. VH-1 is jumping into the celebrity reality show mix, focusing on the domestic bliss of newlywed couple, Liza Minnelli and David Guest. The show was set to hit the airwaves later this year. Hopefully, it will answer the question all of America is asking -- what's up with that guy's eyebrow?

It appears "The West Wing" is looking for a new deputy communications director. Actor Rob Lowe is leaving the hit NBC show with his Sam Seaborn character being phased out this March. While the split is described at amicable, reports say money is at the root of the problem. Money corrupting Washington? What will they think of next?

I'm Mormon. I'm a former teen idol. I'm hosting a new game show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are things Donny Osmond might say.

ANNOUNCER: Yes, Donnie Osmond will be hosting a syndicated revival of the popular '80s game show "$25,000 Pyramid." The "Pyramid" is another in a line of retro game shows cropping up. Our fingers are crossed for a "Match Game" revival...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Charles, be serious.

ANNOUNCER: ... hosted by none other than Charles Nelson Reilly. For more celebrity news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week. We'll be right back.




THORNTON: I walked into an elevator and you walked into a wall.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): "Angelina" is one of the most personal songs on Billy Bob Thornton's "Private Radio." It's a love song that -- well, it may ring a bit hollow today, is the story of how he met his fifth and most famous wife.

THORNTON: The song "Angelina" is a story. It's just about the way we met, and how we felt about each other and really just a thank you to her for my life.


BURKHARDT: Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie met while making the movie "Pushing Tin." By most accounts, it was love at first sight. But at the time, Thornton was engaged to actress Laura Dern. They were supposed to marry at the end of 1999. That wedding would never take place. Thornton and Jolie eloped in Las Vegas in May of 2000. The star couple and their quirks quickly became fodder for the tabloids and the Hollywood rumor mill, a constant buzz that would dog Billy Bob and Angelina throughout their two-year marriage.

Despite the intense spotlight on their relationship, Thornton and Jolie has, until recently, managed to maintain a sharp focus on their careers, perhaps too sharp. Last year, Billy Bob not only wrote and produced his first record, he also starred in three highly acclaimed movies.

ROZEN: Billy Bob Thornton had an amazing 2001. When you look at the movies he did this year, there was no one doing better work at a higher level than Billy Bob Thornton -- between "The Man Who Wasn't There," "Monster's Ball" -- and "Bandits" was fun.

BURKHARDT: Angelina Jolie has also remained busy in 2001. In addition to filming movies, she's threw herself into her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nation Commissioner on Refugees, visiting camps in Thailand and other countries.

Jolie's work in Asia has had a profound effect on her. After a visit to a Cambodian orphanage, she and Thornton, this year, adopted a son, Maddox.

SUTTON: It's an amazing story of Angelina Jolie going out of her way, I think, to find a baby from a different country. She's very involved in relief efforts for some of the poor nations of the world.

BURKHARDT: But even as Jolie and Thornton proclaimed their joy over adopted, Maddox, speculation began to build that their union was in trouble. Speculation that Jolie did little to quell while appearing at the World Refugee Day Conference in Washington. She repeatedly referred to Maddox as simply, "my child."

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: And I realized that I was just so happy that my child was safe.

SANZ: Since really last December, they've hardly spent any time at all together. They were together at the Golden Globes in January, but apart from that, she was making movies. He was on tour.

BURKHARDT: If there was any doubt that Thornton and Jolie had been keeping their distance, it was put to rest when she filed for divorce last week. Jolie claims that she's only spent one week with Thornton in the last four months.

SANZ: In the divorce papers, Angelina cited "irreconcilable differences" and what she asked for was for full custody of Maddox, their son, also for some miscellaneous jewelry and the right to keep all of her earnings.

THORNTON: Miss Angelina...

BURKHARDT: For his part, Thornton will only say that his split from Angelina Jolie is a sad thing. It's a vast departure from even a few months ago when Thornton seemed eager to talk about Angelina. At the time, Billy Bob seemed to be enjoying his life and was hoping more of the same.

THORNTON: I'd like to have three years in a row of just happiness. That will be great. That will be more than, I think, most people ever have, you know. Certainly, more than I've ever had.

BURKHARDT: After his break with Angelina Jolie, that hope appears to remain elusive for Billy Bob Thornton, at least in his private life. At 46, however, Thornton remains an accomplished writer, actor, and director and now musician. He plans to continue making more movies and more music, more follow-ups to "Private Radio," only it appears that he'll do so without Angelina.


ZAHN: And that is it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, Mike Myers and his shagadelic alter ego, Austin Powers. The secrets behind this international man of mystery. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks again for joining us. And be sure to join me every weekday for "AMERICAN MORNING" right here on CNN. Again, thanks for being with us.




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