"Things haven't always gone the way I wanted, but I know I've been very lucky," says veteran actor Gene Hackman. "I've had more than my fair share of success and audiences are still good to me."
Back in the early Seventies Gene didn't really see it that way. Before he made 1971's The French Connection, the actor was worried he might never work again. This, despite the fact that he had starred on Broadway, made 13 films and been twice nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars for Bonnie And Clyde and I Never Sang For My Father.
But it wasn't until he won an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of New York City police detective Popeye Doyle that Gene made it in his own mind. He was finally a star and has since gone on to become one of the most versatile and well-respected actors in American cinema.
Born on January 30, 1930, in San Bernadino, California, Eugene Alden Hackman had a nomadic childhood with his two parents, Eugene and Lyda, before finally settling in Illinois where he was raised by his British maternal grandmother, Beatrice. Unchallenged by school, he dropped out at the age of 16, lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines. He went on to be trained as a radio operator and, while serving in China, used his skills to land himself a job as a disc jockey.
After demob, Gene pursued a career as a radio announcer and in 1952 hitchhiked to New York to attend the School of Radio Technique. He went on to work his way across America's heartland during the early Fifties, developing his resonant vocal abilities in the process. As he approached 30, however, he decided to give his long-held ambition to act a chance. In 1958, Gene enrolled at the famed Pasadena Playhouse in California, where he shared the honour of being voted "least likely to succeed" with classmate Dustin Hoffman. Gene was asked to leave after three months.
Undaunted, the actor returned to New York where he blossomed under the tutelage of George Morrison, a former instructor at the Lee Strasberg Institute. He made his acting debut on the small screen in live television, but slowly he won more and more roles on the Broadway stage. Having earned a reputation in the theatre, Gene was seduced by cinema and had a brief but indelible role as a romantic rival to Warren Beatty in the 1964 feature film Lilith.
Three years later, when it came to casting the seminal gangster flick Bonnie And Clyde, Warren remembered his former co-star and offered him the standout role of Buck, Clyde Barrow's older brother. Gene turned what could have been merely a murderous hick into a character infused with righteous innocence, and in doing so earned his first Oscar nomination.
It wasn't until The French Connection, however, that Gene finally landed what is arguably his finest role. A skilful warts-and-all portrayal of a sadistic, uncompromising New York cop which brought a host of accolades. His role as male lead established, from then on Gene worked steadily. By the time he was showcasing his high camp villain Lex Luthor in 1978's Superman, Gene had announced his retirement after nearly seven years of non-stop work.
The actor was seduced back to the screen by Warren Beatty for a supporting role in 1981's Reds. Re-energised, Gene went on to etch several memorable characterisations throughout the Eighties, but surgery for heart problems in 1990 provoked another hiatus. The following year, he embarked on his second marriage to girlfriend of seven years, Betsy Arakawa. (Gene had divorced his first wife and the mother of his three children, Faye Maltese, in 1982 after 26 years together.)
It seems the easy life wasn't for him, however, and Gene roared back onto the big screen as sadistic, smiling sheriff Little Bill Daggett a part he had initially turned down in Clint Eastwood's revisionist western Unforgiven. He earned stellar reviews along with numerous awards which were capped by a second Oscar as the year's Best Supporting Actor.
Healthy and in demand, Gene has continued delivering outstanding and sometimes award-winning turns ever since. Having completely conquered Hollywood, he has now turned his sights to the world of literature. He published his first novel in 1999 and has plans for several more.
For the moment, the star has no plans to slow down. "I have that old feeling from the early days when you couldn't get a job and you want to take everything that's offered you," he says. "I don't know if I ever had a moment when I 'made it' in Hollywood. I don't think about that."