Bill Paxton, who died Saturday at age 61, is best known to most film fans for his work in hit movies like “Titanic,” “Twister” and “Aliens.” But he holds a special place in the hearts of people who love weird music.
Back in 1980, when Paxton was still a struggling actor, he directed a music video for “Fish Heads,” a novelty song recorded in 1978 by L.A.-based music duo Barnes & Barnes.
The song, which you can hear above, has this unforgettably bizarre chorus: “Fish heads, fish heads/ Roly poly fish heads/ Fish heads, fish heads/ Eat them up, Yum!”
The song was a big hit on “Dr. Demento,” a syndicated radio show dedicated to novelty hits, when Paxton first met the song’s composers, Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer.
The composers talked about making a video for their song and Paxton volunteered, he told the online magazine Bullz-Eye.com in 2010.
“I said, ‘God, would you give me a chance to make it?’ Because I had been making short films,” Paxton said. “And that summer, I kind of put that whole thing together.”
The video cost around $2,000 and featured the budding actor holding a party attended only by fish heads, watering a garden blooming with fish heads and taking a fish head out to see a movie (the lyrics note that he “didn’t have to pay to get it in”).
Paxton was dedicated to the film, even picking out each fish head personally, according to Mumy, who is best known for his work as Will Robinson on the 1960s sci-fi series “Lost In Space.”
“Bill picked ‘em out from the Santa Monica fish market and kept ‘em in his freezer till they literally fell apart and then we bought more,” Mumy told The Huffington Post.
Besides making the film and dealing with real fish heads under hot lights, Paxton also went out of his way to get the video on air by traveling to New York to pitch it to “Saturday Night Live” producers.
As Paxton told Bullz-Eye.com:
“I literally had to wait in the waiting room at Rockefeller Center for two days before anybody would even see me. And then finally they came out to take the ¾-inch tape, one of those big honking fucking things, and I started to get up with them to walk in the back, and they said, ‘Uh, no, you stay here.’ (Laughs) I was like Rupert Pupkin! And then, God, they must have put it in the machine right away, and obviously they played it, because they came out five minutes later and said, ‘Come on back, we want to put it on next week’s show.’”
Paxton’s video for “Fish Heads” ran two weeks in a row. In 1993, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 57 on its list of the top 100 music videos of all time.
Mumy remembered Paxton on Sunday with a touching Facebook post:
Paxton remained proud of his work on the video, but admitted to Bullz-Eye.com: “It’s funny how you build your career.”
This story has been updated to include a quote from Bill Mumy.