Family & Companions
Her genre success overshadowed her impressive range, but Linda Hamilton enjoyed a remarkable and varied career. Trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, she became a movie star as Sarah Connor, the mother-to-be of humanity's last hope in James Cameron's action/sci-fi masterpiece, "The Terminator" (1984), and then won over an entirely new set of fans as a doomed lover in the lushly romantic urban fantasy "Beauty and the Beast" (CBS, 1987-1990) opposite Ron Perlman. Her impressive turn - and even more impressive muscular physique - as the ultimate warrior woman in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991) ensured her a measure of cinematic immortality and marked her greatest professional triumph. She made headlines with her marriage to (and lucrative divorce from) James Cameron, and notched a series of well-received, award-winning TV-movie and voiceover roles, but made her biggest subsequent impact as a vocal advocate for mental illness issues when she publicly revealed her lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. Hamilton was a talented, tough actress who deserved a bigger career beyond her iconic genre work, but made the most of the one she had.
Born Sept. 26, 1956 in Salisbury, MD, Linda Carroll Hamilton was an identical twin; her sister's name was Leslie. Hamilton's father was a physician who died in a car accident when she was five, and had self-diagnosed himself with bipolar disorder. Her genetics - and the loss of her father - contributed to her own lifelong struggle with mental health issues, as well as to her childhood compulsive eating. She attended Washington College in Chesterton, MD for two years, where a theater professor infamously told her that she had no chance of making a living as an actress. Hamilton was not deterred and used the rest of her college fund to move to New York and pursue acting fulltime. She enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, studying Method acting, appearing in stage productions, and landing management. Although she had mixed feelings about leaving the New York world of serious acting for the less respected but profitable Los Angeles world of film and television, Hamilton made the leap to the West Coast.
She first came to critics' attention playing opposite Mickey Rourke in the powerful, evenhanded "Rape and Marriage: The Rideout Case" (CBS, 1980), a well-reviewed drama detailing the real-life efforts of an Oregon housewife to bring rape charges against her abusive husband, a legal first. From there, she landed a leading role in the nighttime teen soap "Secrets of Midland - Heights" (CBS, 1980-81) - and on its reincarnation, "King's Crossing" (CBS, 1982) before winning "Tag: The Assassination Game" (1982), where she played a sexy college student involved in a campus-wide "killing" game that turned real. She met actor Bruce Abbott on the set of the movie, and the two married in December of that year. Her personal happiness was tempered by the fact that her business manager embezzled almost $100,000 of her money. Hamilton was also struggling with various substance abuse problems, as well as the effects of her mental illness on her marriage.
Her unique blend of extreme strength with undercurrents of vulnerability helped make Hamilton a powerful presence in her films, but the cost of this trait came from her struggles with her mental illness, and she later claimed much of the responsibility for the rockiness of her relationship with Abbott. Professionally, Hamilton was on a roll, appearing in a four-episode arc on "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87), a handful of TV movies, and the multi-sequel-spawning horror flick "Children of the Corn" (1984), where she faced down some truly unruly children. She landed the role of a lifetime that same year, however, when James Cameron cast her as the star of the action/sci-fi classic "The Terminator" (1984). Hamilton played Sarah Connor, a young LA waitress who discovers that not only is she destined to become the mother of mankind's last hope in an apocalyptic war with machines, but that a cyborg assassin has been sent back in time to murder her. Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger rocketed to superstardom with his role as the titular robot, Hamilton earned a Best Actress Saturn Award nomination, providing a strong human element to a film that could easily have succumbed to its technophilia, and made her character a compelling, resourceful survivor. The film launched Cameron, Schwarzenegger, and Hamilton into their respective Hollywood orbits, and also crystallized countless ideas about futuristic dystopias and science fiction epics that changed the genre forever.
With her new, raised profile, Hamilton struggled to find a worthwhile project; she shot an episode of "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996), the Tommy Lee Jones automobile-actioner "Black Moon Rising" (1986), and the big-screen disaster "King Kong Lives" (1986), in which she played a heart surgeon charged with repairing the big guy's busted ticker. She found her footing in another successful genre piece, starring in the sweepingly romantic "Beauty and the Beast" (CBS, 1987-1990) opposite Ron Perlman. Taking the framework of its premise from the famous fairy tale, the show told the story of attorney Catherine (Hamilton) who discovers a secret community living underneath New York City in a subterranean wonderland. Drawn to the powerful, poetic manimal Vincent (Perlman), Catherine juggles her deepening feelings for this "beast" while becoming an above-ground ally for his underworld. While the show was never a ratings smash, it successfully blended the storytelling techniques of fairy tales, romance novels and superhero comics and became one of the most-talked-about watercooler shows of its time, particularly for the female contingent. Hamilton earned nominations for two Golden Globes and an Emmy for her role, and when she became pregnant after the show's second season, her exit helped seal the show's ultimate fate. Much like the "Star Trek" phenomenon, fans of "Beauty and the Beast" continued to be just as passionate about it long after cancellation.
The parents of a son born in 1989, Hamilton and Abbott divorced, and she would later talk at length about how she had been physically and verbally abusive to her husband while in the throes of her mental illness. Professionally, she continued to get excellent reviews for her work, including the powerful "Go Toward the Light" (CBS, 1988), where she played a mother whose young son developed AIDS from a contaminated blood transfusion, and the underwhelming James Belushi comedy "Mr. Destiny" (1990), where she played a devoted wife. It was her return to the role of Sarah Connor in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), however, that would cement her place in Hollywood history. Reuniting with James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger - in a twist, now playing a cyborg sent from the future to protect Sarah's son, John Connor (Edward Furlong) - Hamilton updated her character to a fascinating place: locked in a mental institution, possessed by her knowledge of the upcoming end of the world. Physically, Hamilton astounded viewers and critics with her pumped-up physique and powerful arm muscles, and she fully invested her formerly meek character with a new ferocity, capability and prowess for action as the ultimate warrior. As "T2" became a juggernaut blockbuster and cultural milestone, Hamilton reaped an enormous amount of credit for her contributions, winning a Best Actress Saturn Award and two MTV Movie Awards, as well as striking an iconic figure as a warrior woman against whom all future action heroines would be judged.
Seven years after first meeting during the shoot for "Terminator," Hamilton's collaboration with James Cameron went from professional to romantic, and she gave birth to their daughter Josephine in 1993. The two shared a passionate but stormy relationship, complicated by Cameron's insistence that they not marry, leading to frequent break-ups and reunions. His legendary temper and controlling nature, coupled with Hamilton's continuing problems with bi-polar disorder were certainly no help either. Illustrating how Hollywood can be a limiting place for actresses, Hamilton went from the professional peak of her powers to a small but well-reviewed role in the underwhelming "Silent Fall" (1994), in which she played the wife of a psychologist (Richard Dreyfuss) treating an autistic boy who witnessed the double murder of his parents. She had better luck starring in "A Mother's Prayer" (USA Network, 1995) as an HIV-positive widow trying to ensure her young son's safety and happiness after her inevitable death. For her role in the heart-wrenching film, Hamilton won a Best Actress CableACE Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe.
She reprised her Sarah Connor role for a theme-park adventure ride's accompanying mini-movie, and returned to the big screen with a supporting role in the little-seen political thriller "Shadow Conspiracy" (1997), starring Charlie Sheen as a trusted White House advisor who attempts to foil an assassination attempt against the president. Hamilton's next feature, "Dante's Peak" (1997), generated more attention than anything she had done since the last "Terminator" movie. A by-the-book disaster flick about a rumbling volcano threatening a small Pacific Northwest town, "Dante's Peak" benefited from good performances from Hamilton as the town's mayor (she won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actress) and Pierce Brosnan as the geologist sent to warn an unbelieving populace. The actress rounded out 1997 with an episode on "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004), playing a woman who accidentally leaves a message on Frasier's answer machine and is surprised to find him meeting her at the airport.
In her personal life, 1997 was a propitious year, when her on-again, off-again relationship with James Cameron became official as the two wed. Again, their strong personalities - he a driven workaholic unable to give less than 110% to his films, and she, struggling to balance motherhood, a career, a marriage and her fight with mental illness - clashed, and while Cameron's "Titanic" (1997) was an iceberg-sized triumph with critics and moviegoers, it also fatally wounded their troubled marriage. She accompanied Cameron to the Oscars the following year where he made headlines for sweeping the awards and making his controversial "King of the World" speech, but rumors of trouble abounded. In her own career, she filmed several movies-of-the-week, including "Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Couples" (Showtime, 1998), a historical drama about non-Jews risking their lives to save victims from the Holocaust; "Point Last Seen" (CBS, 1998), an adaptation of Hannah Nyala's book in which Hamilton plays the head of a search-and-rescue team with a troubled past on a mission to save a nine-year-old girl lost in the desert; and "On the Line" (ABC, 1998), where she starred as a female LAPD detective transferred to an all-male robbery/homicide division. She then appeared in another feature, "The Secret Life of Girls" (1999), a black comedy set in 1973 about a teenager (Majandra Delfino) dealing with finding a boyfriend as well as with her dad's infidelity. After voicing characters on episodes of "Disney's Hercules" (ABC, 1998-99) and "Batman Beyond" (The WB, 1999-2001), she starred in the made-for-TV movie "The Color of Courage" (USA Network, 1999), a historical drama based on a true-story about a black couple (Lynn Whitfield and Roger Guenveur Smith) driven from their new neighborhood by the all-white residents, thanks to a lawsuit that was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. Hamilton won a Best Actress Golden Satellite Award for her role.
Hamilton and Cameron divorced in 1999, and the actress famously received a "Titanic"-sized settlement. She would later discuss in detail how her mental illness had strained her marriage to Cameron as well as her ability to work and enjoy life - oftentimes she became paralyzed with fear over imagined disasters befalling her children. Despite all the years she spent in therapy, Hamilton still struggled with depression-related issues as well as with an addiction to alcohol and compulsive behavior. Frustrated with the variety of diagnoses doctors had given her, and worried that relying on medication would dull the strength and fire that made her so unique as an actress, Hamilton finally managed to get her medical issues under control, extensively researching what she faced and accepting a doctor's diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Balancing a physical regiment of exercise and healthful eating with a personally tailored medical regiment of medicine and therapy, Hamilton was able to take control of her mental illness and reclaim her life and health. She would later discuss how she had lost her marriages and effectively 20 years of her life to her mental illness before a desire to become healthy for her children spurred her to fight her demons head-on.
Back in front of cameras, Hamilton portrayed a magazine writer who experiences a sexual reawakening after an interview with a famous Parisian madam in the drama "Sex & Mrs. X" (Lifetime, 2000), and filmed a small role as a woman with a crush on her coworker (Treat Williams) in the psychological thriller "Skeletons in the Closet" (2001), for which she won a Video Premiere Award for Best Supporting Actress. Hamilton also continued her involvement with voiceover work with a recurring vocal role as Dr. Ozma Furbanna on the children's animated series, "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" (ABC, 2000-01). After starring in part three of "A Girl Thing" (Showtime, 2001), a four-part miniseries featuring women confiding their life's major transitions to a psychiatrist (Stockard Channing) with troubles of her own, Hamilton was featured in the made-for-TV movies "Bailey's Mistake" (ABC, 2001), about a widowed woman and her two children left with only a mysterious magical island off the coast of Maine, and "Silent Night" (Hallmark, 2002), the true story of a German mother and her 12-year-old son who invite American and Nazi soldiers to share Christmas Eve dinner in their mountain cabin in 1944. Hamilton also tackled the occasional stage role, including a well-reviewed turn as executed spy Ethel Rosenberg in a Los Angeles production, and politely declined an offer to reprise Sarah Connor yet again in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (2003).
When she felt that she had her mental illness fully under control, Hamilton went public in 2004 with her battle, giving multiple interviews about her experience and sharing the information and resources she had collected. She was widely praised for her unflinching honesty discussing the often-stigmatized subject of mental illness, and showed great warmth and compassion for others fighting the same fight. Back on screen, she played a supporting role in the dramatic feature "Smile" (2005), about an American teenager (Mika Boorem) who sees firsthand how Operation Smile's corrective facial surgery helps a Chinese teenager, and appeared in the meta-curiosity "The Kid & I" (2005), about a down-and-out actor (Tom Arnold) hired to write a sequel to "True Lies" (1994). Hamilton then went to Shreveport, LA to film the action/drama miniseries "Thief" (FX, 2006), playing Andre Braugher's high-level handler, whose murder fueled the storyline. Although she appeared mostly in little-seen projects, the actress continued to work, getting attention for her role as a tough-as-nails American security expert intent on recovering a missing shipment of Viagra in the Irish comedy "Holy Water" (2009). The same year, she upped her star profile a bit by providing the opening narration for "Terminator Salvation" (2009), although the minimal involvement of Hamilton, Schwarzenegger and Cameron proved that the franchise's torch had definitely been passed.
At peace with her permanent connections to ex-husband Cameron, Hamilton garnered a lot of media attention during the historic 2009 Oscar race, which saw James Cameron and his global blockbuster "Avatar" (2009) up against his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow and her indie hit "The Hurt Locker" (2009). Hamilton was interviewed frequently about her unique vantage point on the race, especially involving the much-ballyhooed Best Director category (where Bigelow would eventually best Cameron). She kept busy professionally, however, with voiceover and supporting roles. When the story broke that Hamilton would join the sixth-season cast of the Mary-Louise Parker hit "Weeds" (Showtime, 2005-12) as an eco-conscious lesbian marijuana-grower, fans cheered, hoping that it would lead to a higher future profile for the actress.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to NYC
Moved to Hollywood
Primetime TV debut in a guest role on the NBC series "Shirley", starring Shirley Jones
Starred as Greta Rideout, a woman who accused her husband of marital rape, in the fact-based ABC movie "Rape and Marriage: The Rideout Case"
TV series debut as regular, played one of the teens in the short-lived CBS primetime serial "Secrets of Midland Heights"
Feature film acting debut, a lead in "TAG: The Assassination Game"; met first husband Bruce Abbott, who co-starred
Had lead in the short-lived CBS primetime soap "King's Crossing"
Acted in "The Stone Boy"
Breakthrough screen role, as Sarah Connor in "The Terminator", helmed by her future husband James Cameron
Had recurring role on NBC's "Hill Street Blues" as Ed Marinaro's girlfriend
Stumbled on the big screen in "Black Moon Rising" and "King Kong Lives"
Played the female lead of Catherine Chandler, an attorney who was attacked and nursed back to health by the leonine Vincent (Ron Perlman) in the cult hit CBS romantic drama "Beauty and the Beast"; character was killed off in 1989 when the actress opted to leave the series; garnered an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1989)
Reprised her signature role of Sarah Connor in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", again directed by Cameron
Offered a strong turn as a widow infected with HIV who seeks to find a suitable home for her young son in the affecting TV-movie "A Mother's Prayer" (USA Network)
Co-starred in the feature "Dante's Peak"
With Alfred Molina, portrayed a married couple who shelter Jewish children at their boarding school during WWII in the "Marie Taquet" segment of "Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Couples" (Showtime)
Played title part in L.A. stage production of "Laura"
Portrayed a journalist whose life is altered after an encounter with a notorious Parisian madam in the Lifetime movie "Sex & Mrs. X"
Co-starred with Treat Williams and Jonathan Jackson in "Skeletons in the Closet"
Had featured role in the anthology film "A Girl Thing" (Showtime)
Cast in Tom Arnold's feature screenwriting debut "The Kid and I"