Here’s Why Gene Hackman Stepped Away From Hollywood

by Allison Hambrick

Legendary actor Gene Hackman shocked Hollywood when he stepped away from his highly successful career in acting.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was actually a stress test that I took in New York,” he once said. “The doctor advised me that my heart wasn’t in the kind of shape that I should be putting it under any stress.”

Though Hackman considered himself retired, the actor was told not to share this status.

“The agents don’t want me to say it, in case something good comes along,” the Unforgiven star said. “But I’m officially retired. No doubt about it.” When asked if “Hollywood got the message,” he responded “I haven’t talked to Hollywood much lately, so I don’t really know. But I would guess that they’ve moved on.”

Additionally, Hackman decided to channel his creativity into a new passion: writing.

“It’s very relaxing for me,” Hackman said of writing. “I don’t picture myself as a great writer, but I really enjoy the process, especially on this book [2008’s Escape From Andersonville: A Novel Of The Civil War]. We had to do a great deal of research on it to get some of the facts right, and it is stressful to some degree, but it’s a different kind of stress. It’s one you can kind of manage because you’re sitting there by yourself, as opposed to having ninety people sitting around waiting for you to entertain them!”

For Hackman, writing is a lower-stress way to be productive without adding the stress of being on set.

Clint Eastwood Discusses Gene Hackman in Unforgiven

While Hackman retired in 2004, he already slowed down in the late 1980s. His big rule at the time was to do less violent and stressful films.

“I submitted it to Gene Hackman and Gene I’d known for many years, but we had never worked together,” explained Eastwood. “He was in a mood at that time and he said ‘I don’t want to do any more violent pictures. I’m tired of it.'”

Ultimately, Hackman agreed to sign on after Eastwood explained that the film as actually a statement against violence.

“I said, ‘You know, I know exactly where you’re coming from, but read it again because I think we can make a great statement against violence and killing if we do this right,'” said Eastwood. “It’s all in the execution, you gotta execute it right, or else nothing means anything. He re-read it and came back and said, ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll do this.'”

Unforgiven proved to be one of Hackman’s best films; he won Best Supporting Actor for the role.

“About every third or fourth movie I’ll do is of really serious, personal interest to me. I’ve got to say this picture, Unforgiven, is one of those third or fourth pictures in the cycle. It has so much to say about the issue of violence, about the myth of heroism, that I found a lot of my own attitude toward violent entertainment articulated in the characters and their situations,” Hackman concluded.