Gene Hackman dreamed of fulfilling his mother’s wish of seeing him on television. Although he got to be on TV, his mother never had the chance to see him because she died before Hackman could get his big break. The actor grew up a timid boy whose self-esteem was too low due to his weight. With time, he overcame his insecurities to become one of the most reputable actors in Hollywood. Despite retiring nearly two decades ago, Gene Hackman’s net worth is still much higher than those who continue pursuing their careers. Here is a look at how he achieved his wealth.
A Love for Journalism Leads to Acting
Hackman was born in California in 1930. His father was a pressman, and his mother was a waitress. The family then moved to Illinois to live with Hackman’s grandparents. Shortly after the actor entered his teen years, his father left without a goodbye; all that Hackman recalls is a wave as his father drove down the street. The actor no longer had to endure the corporal punishment he had gotten used to from his father. As a result, Hackman often got in trouble after his father left. According to The Independent, he once stole candy and soda, resulting in spending a night in jail. Hackman did not respect authority figures while at Storm Lake High School. After a heated argument with his basketball coach, he dropped out of school to work in a steel mill. Since his grandfather was a veteran, Hackman decided to follow the same path hence lied about his age to join the marines at 16. The strict discipline in the marines helped to tame him, and he climbed the ranks to become a corporal.
He volunteered to be a broadcaster and disc jockey for the Armed Forces Radio Service, a job that enabled him to overcome stage fright since he viewed broadcasting as a performance. Funny enough, his audience was primarily Chinese, who hardly understood what he was saying. Fate intervened when his battalion was supposed to leave for Korea, but Hackman was involved in a motorcycle accident the night before the scheduled departure. The injuries rendered him unfit for active duty, and after serving in the marines for four and a half years, Hackman was discharged as a wounded veteran, entitled to $150 every month. He then studied journalism and commercial drawing at the University of Illinois but dropped out after six months to pursue a career in radio. After graduating from the School of Radio Technique, Manhattan, Hackman got a job as an assistant director and floor manager for television. The passion for his work died, prompting him to try out acting.
Making It Big in Hollywood
According to Film Comment, Hackman went to California to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse of Theater Arts. The actor once said that watching Marlon Brando in “The Men” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” inspired him to be an actor. He viewed himself as an ordinary man and reasoned that even if Hollywood preferred much young and better-looking men, he could still land some roles. At Pasadena, he met Dusty Hoffman, who became his only friend in a classroom filled with students much younger than him. Their classmates voted the two friends “least likely to succeed.” Perhaps the students thought their prediction had come true because Pasadena threw Hackman out when he scored the lowest grade ever recorded at the Playhouse. Hackman and his wife, Faye, moved back to New York, with Faye taking on the role of the breadwinner since the budding actor preferred short-term jobs to make time to attend auditions. Some of the jobs he took included being a women’s shoe salesman, a soda jerk, and a relief counterman.
He even polished the leather furniture at the Chrysler building and worked as a doorman. The light at the end of his tunnel appeared when Hackman made his theatrical debut in summer stock as an unpaid intern. He had been building sets for a theater production, and the director, Ulu Grosbard, selected him to play the role of a strong Italian workman. The actor then studied method acting for eight years under the guidance of George Morrison while still working odd jobs. His determination to prove the naysayers wrong helped him make his TV debut in 1959 in an episode of “The United States Steel Hour.” He then landed on Broadway in 1964 and later on Hackman booked a film role in “Lilith.” In 1967, he was cast in “Bonnie and Clyde,” which earned him an Oscar nomination. At the time, he was expecting his first child with Faye, and according to Peter Shelley’s book “Gene Hackman: The Life and Work,” the actor’s earnings afforded them to move to a more decent apartment setting him back $33 a month.
Getting Millions from Acting
For an actor who kept being rejected and never giving up, Hackman soon started reaping the fruits of his persistence. He was cast in movies alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, such as Tom Cruise and Owen Wilson. Allegedly, Wilson pocketed $3 million in the 2001 “Behind Enemy Lines” film, so Hackman might have received a similar amount. With over 50 films to his name, he earned a substantial sum of money and retired in 2004 after filming “Welcome to Mooseport.” However, the decision was prompted by his health. According to Empire, his doctor advised him not to stress himself out because his heart would not take it. Luckily, his penchant for journalism enabled him to embark on a writing career which proved to be a therapeutic hobby. Hackman’s net worth would have been much more if he stuck to writing. He disclosed that he bought the rights to a best-selling novel in the 1980s, intending to adapt it for the screen. Unfortunately, after writing 300 pages of the script, he felt overwhelmed. He gave up on the project, which turned out to be “The Silence of the Lambs,” grossing $273 million globally.