Rough Beginning

Little did Hollywood know on August 4th 1955, that a future driving force in the motion picture industry had just enter this world in the Arkansas town of Hot Springs.  Those in Arkansas had no way of knowing that a future Academy Award winner was in their midst.  His first years of life were spent living alongside more than a dozen relatives in a tiny shack his grandfather owned, situated in wooded area near the tiny village of Alpine (population 100).  They ate what they hunted in the woods, and lived without electricity and running water.    The glitter and glamour of Hollywood was light-years away.

First Love

After a few years of backwoods living, his family moved to Malvern, Arkansas, a town of nearly ten thousand, where Billy Bob developed a passion for music. When he was nine he got his first drum set, and before long was performing for the local PTA. Along with his brother Don, Thornton joined several musical groups, playing the rock hits of the day.  Throughout the seventies, Billy Bob believed music would be his ticket to the future. When he wasn’t performing, he was writing stories. Creating unique characters and situations came easily for the boy who loved to dream.


When Thornton was 18 he lost his father, who had been a High School history teacher and basketball coach, to lung cancer.  His half-Italian, half-Choctaw Indian mother Virginia was the major influence on his life.  Virginia Faulkner Thornton was a psychic, and eventually became the model for the Cate Blanchett character in The Gift, a feature film written by Billy Bob.

The Acting Bug

While in High School Billy Bob developed an interest in drama, but still believed music was his future.  After graduation Thornton found that performing in small clubs on week-ends  was only paying some of the bills.  He found work in construction, laboring for the Highway Department.  Then at 19 he took a job in a nursing home,  he became  the social director,  got friendly with residents and absorbed much from their life experiences .  It was knowledge that would eventually see its way into a character he’d create named Karl Childers in Sling Blade.

Shooting For The Stars

In 1981 Billy Bob decided to give Hollywood a chance.  Along with his childhood friend, Tom Epperson, and 500 dollars in cash the duo set out to make their mark.  Billy Bob was ready for the big time – but in seems the big time wasn’t ready for him.  Doors were slammed in his face - casting directors assumed that with a name like Billy Bob he was nothing more than a stupid hillbilly bumpkin. Undeterred, Thornton continued pounding on doors, continued with his acting lessons and continued working odd jobs to help pay the rent. 

The First Break

Finally he landed a role in the film The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains.  His performance was less than stellar, but the experience convinced him that with hard work he could achieve bigger things.  Slowly the small roles began to trickle in, he received recognition for his acting ability and after appearing on several TV sitcoms, landed a three year co-starring role with his friend John Ritter in “Hearts Afire”on CBS in 1992.  Billy Bob befriended John's older brother Tom Ritter who has cerebral palsy, and became aware of John's dedication to raising money for of United Cerebral Palsy, by hosting the annual UCP telethon.

Always Creating

While not on camera, Billy Bob continued perfecting the character of mentally challenged murderer Karl Childers.  In 1993 he penned and performed in a short film entitled “Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade”.  He then made a deal to write, star in and direct the feature length version of “Sling Blade” in 1996 and the rest is Hollywood history. 


Billy Bob Thornton’s career is hotter than ever, and we are honored that he took the time to provide the introduction to our special needs educational video “Given A Chance…a little girl’s journey”. He’s not only an incredible actor, he is an incredible human being as well.