This article (c) 2002 by Mark Rathwell

His name was Wilfred Bailey Bixby the Third, but to his millions of fans, he was simply known as Bill Bixby. During his thirty year career in television, he struck a chord with two generations of television viewers, playing characters who were gentle, kind and caring. Bixby was an accomplished actor and also an accomplished director. Off-camera, his life faced incredible obstacles, but he faced them with a determination that inspired millions.

Bill Bixby was born on January 22nd 1934 in San Francisco, California. The young Bixby was an energetic child who loved the spotlight. In school, he was an average student but excelled in drama. His aunt had been an aspiring actress and encouraged her nephew to pursue acting as a career.


Bill’s parents were not as enthusiastic as he was about his ambitions to become an actor. They encouraged Bill to pursue post-secondary education to become a professional such as a doctor or lawyer. Bill Bixby enrolled in a pre-law program at Berkeley but dropped out a few credits shy of graduation. Bixby enlisted in the military for a brief time and, upon completion of his term, decided to try a career in acting. At first, succeeding was difficult. Bixby took a job as a lifeguard at a hotel while trying to make ends meet. Some advertising executives noticed the young lifeguard and his first big break came when they whisked Bixby back to Detroit to appear in commercials for General Motors and Chrysler. The young actor had appeared in a string of commercials and plays by the time he made his way back to Hollywood. To further hone his skills, Bill enrolled in the Estelle Harmon school of acting.


Bixby began to break into television in the early 1960a, landing guest-starring roles on THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. His big break came when he landed the role of “Tim O’Hare” on the CBS comedy, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, in 1963. For three seasons, he played opposite Ray Walston to the delight of millions of viewers. The cancellation of the show in 1966 didn’t slow Bixby down. He starred with Elvis Presley in the movies, CLAMBAKE and SPEEDWAY. On a personal level, he was considered one of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors. Bill dated Bat-Man star, Yvonne Craig, but eventually settled down with Brenda Benet, a young actress whom he’d met a few years earlier at a beauty pageant.


In 1969, Bixby took on the role of Tom Corbett, the single father in THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. Viewers warmed up to his role of the sensitive single father and the show became a ratings hit. While on the set, Bixby developed a bond with his young costar, Brandon Cruz. This bond fostered Bill’s desire for a family and, in 1971, he and Brenda were married. Bixby also expanded his talents by directing some episodes of the popular series. However, in 1972, ratings started to fall and the network canceled the series. Once again, Bill refused to sit still and gave an acclaimed performance in the television production of STEAMBATH.


Bill Bixby’s life changed in the fall of 1973 when Brenda and and Bill welcomed a son, Christopher Bixby, to the world. Bixby now had a child of his own and Christopher became the apple of Bill’s eye. In 1973, he took another run at network television, starring in the television series, THE MAGICIAN. Bixby relished the role of Anthony Blake, a magician who found himself in assorted adventures. As a magic enthusiast himself, Bixby performed all of his own magic tricks. However, the show was expensive and didn’t attract the viewers that the network wanted. The series was canceled after one season, but again, Bixby was resilient. He starred in the Disney motion picture, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, in 1975. He directed episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and the series BARBARY COAST. In 1976 received a nomination for his directorial work on the miniseries, “RICH MAN, POOR MAN.”


In 1977, Bixby surprised many viewers by taking the starring role of Dr. David Banner in the television series, THE INCREDIBLE HULK. The CBS series was an adaptation of a Marvel Comic book about a scientist who transforms into a raging green monster with superhuman strength whenever he loses his temper. Bixby initially had concerns over assuming the role but was impressed with producer Kenenth Johnson’s pilot script. When the pilot movie aired in the fall of 1977, the ratings were strong with children and their parents tuning in. A second movie aired a few weeks later and then THE INCREDIBLE HULK became a regular series in the spring of 1978. Millions of viewers tuned in every Friday night to watch David Banner’s adventures.


While successful, THE INCREDIBLE HULK was also a grueling, expensive production. Bixby was allergic to the makeup used for the scenes in which David transformed into the Hulk and the contact lenses he had to wear for the “White Eyes” sequences were uncomfortable. Location shoots and extensive special effects scenes meant that Bixby spent a lot of time on the set, filming episodes. This began to take a toll on his marriage, which intensified when Brenda began work on the soap opera, THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES. In 1979, they separated and in 1980, she filed for divorce. The divorce was bitter and Bixby ended up giving up custody of Christopher.


In March of 1981, Bill Bixby was dealt a devastating blow. While on a ski trip, Christopher Bixby began to have trouble breathing. His mother rushed the boy to a hospital where Christopher died tragically from cardiac arrest, caused by Acute Epiglottitis. The coroner’s report listed Christopher’s death as one that could have been prevented and Bixby was both devastated and furious. Bixby struggled to go back to work on the set of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. After shooting wrapped for the season, he rented a house on the ocean and secluded himself for several months, struggling to deal with his pain.


It turned out that 1982 wasn’t much better. THE INCREDIBLE HULK was still earning solid ratings for CBS, but the production costs had gone up significantly and CBS canceled the series after five seasons. But that seemed trivial compared to the other tragedy Bixby faced. Bill’s ex-wife Brenda, became so despondent over Christopher’s death that she took her own life in April of 1982. Bixby was crushed by the tragedy.


In 1983, Bixby gave network television another shot with the CBS series, GOODNIGHT BEANTOWN, a comedy about a news crew in Boston. The series failed to attract a mainstream audience and was canceled after one season. In 1984, he directed the M*A*S*H* spinoff series, W*A*L*T*E*R* and briefly looked at reviving THE INCREDIBLE HULK in a television movie that would also have featured THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (a CBS series from 1977-1979). With costar Lou Ferrigno busy shooting movies in Europe at the time, the project was shelved.


In 1986 and 1987, Bixby directed episodes of the David Rache comedy, SLEDGEHAMMER. In 1988, he reunited with Hulk producer, Nicholas Corea, to produce THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS. The 2-hour TV movie aired on NBC to mammoth ratings and a new movie, THE TRIAL OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK, was ordered. Bixby took over the directorial duties from Corea and moved the production to Vancouver, British Columbia. While working on the picture, Bixby met Laura Michaels. The two dated, fell in love and married in 1990. That year, saw Bixby producing his final Hulk adventure, THE DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK.


In 1991, while directing several TV movies, Bixby began to notice pain in his hip and back. At the urging of friends, he went to the doctor for a physical and ended up not leaving the hospital. He was diagnosed with having prostrate cancer and underwent immediate surgery to remove the organ. The cancer, however, was spreading. Bixby tried numerous experimental treatments but none of them had any long term success.


Bixby coped with his illness the way that he coped with other tragedies - by throwing himself into his work. Upon returning home from shooting a number of television movies, Bixby was shocked to learn that Laura was gone from their home. After one year of marriage, the stress of Bixby’s illness proved too much and she filed for divorce. Worse, Bixby received notice that his cancer was terminal.


In 1992, Bill Bixby was hired to direct the second season of the television comedy, BLOSSOM. While he tried to remain optimistic and energetic, he was also in constant pain. Bixby decided to take his fight against cancer public and to draw attention to the disease. He gave touching interviews and received thousands of cards from fans around the world. His visits to other cancer survivors brought significant joy. In 1992, he met Judith Kliban, the widow of a famous cartoonist. The two developed a deep, spiritual bond. In October of 1993, despite knowing that Bixby’s cancer was terminal, the two married in San Francisco overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.


By this time, his weight had dropped to 135 pounds and Bixby was directing BLOSSOM lying down on a couch. His pain was increasing and cast members became increasingly worried about his health. Finally, after collapsing on the set, Bixby realized his strength was failing and retired to his home to spend his final days. Six days after leaving the set, Bill Bixby slipped into a coma and passed away at the age of 59. On November 21st, 1993, the world mourned the news that one of television’s most enduring and likable actors had passed on. During his last few days, Bixby isolated himself with his wife because he didn’t want to feel pity from friends and colleagues.
Bill Bixby’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. In 1971, he had done the same thing with his father’s ashes and in 1981, had done the same thing with the ashes of his son, Christopher.


Bill Bixby brought joy to two generations of television viewers. And though his life was filled with challenges, the determination with which he faced them inspired millions. His untimely passing in 1993 will never overshadow his tremendous body of work which will remain on air for decades to come.

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