John Wayne Hated Gene Hackman’s Acting

John Wayne and Gene Hackman are both legendary actors. Wayne established himself as a tough guy on the screen while being a behind-the-scenes prankster. Meanwhile, Hackman emulated his acting hero James Cagney in his career and left his mark on American cinema in the process. Together, they combined for nearly 300 acting credits (per IMDb) and eight Academy Award nominations, but they never worked together, probably because Wayne hated Hackman’s acting and called him the worst actor in Hollywood.

Gene Hackman stars as Popeye Doyle in 'The French Connection' (left); John Wayne as Cole Thorton in 'El Dorado.' Wayne once said he hated Hackman's acting, calling him "the worst actor in town."
(l-r) Gene Hackman; John Wayne | Getty Images; Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

What caused John Wayne’s death, and what is Gene Hackman doing now?

Wayne and Hackman were acting contemporaries, but they were a generation apart. 

Wayne played his first credited role in the 1930 movie The Big Trail, and he worked steadily for four consecutive decades. He slowed down in the 1970s as he fought cancer, but Wayne still starred in 10 movies and appeared in several TV shows.

After battling cancer for more than a decade, Wayne died from complications from stomach cancer on June 11, 1979. His daughter, Aissa, was at his side as he spoke his last words. She was holding her father’s hand and asked him if he knew who she was. He responded with his last words, “Of course, I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

Hackman’s broke through with 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. His final acting role came in 2004’s Welcome to Mooseport. He retired because he wanted to avoid the stress and travel that comes along with some roles. 

Hackman isn’t just sitting around in retirement, though. He’s channeled his creative talents elsewhere. Hackman is a writer and novelist with seven books to his name. Still, Hackman is famous for being an award-winning actor, but Wayne just didn’t see it. Aissa Wayne said her dad once called Hackman “the worst actor in town.”

Wayne trashes Hackman’s acting: “He’s awful”

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By almost any measure — from his fan-favorite movies to award nominations and big box office wins — Hackman is one of the best film actors of all time.

John Wayne just didn’t see it. 

Aissa Wayne, in her book John Wayne: My Father, writes that The Duke couldn’t help but disparage Hackman anytime he saw him pop up on the screen, according to Express:

“When it came to his contemporaries in film, I only heard him speak once with any real venom. Gene Hackman could never appear on-screen without my father skewering his performance. I wish I could tell you why he so harshly criticized Hackman, but he never went into detail. Although it’s pure speculation, had my father lived to see more of his work, I think his view of Mr. Hackman would have changed.

“Back then, however, my father called Hackman ‘the worst actor in town. He’s awful.’”

Aissa Wayne describes John Wayne’s opinion of Gene Hackman’s acting

Wayne was no stranger to feuds, and Hackman might have gotten off easy by simply being called an awful actor. Wayne nearly came to blows with Frank Sinatra, almost got in a fight while shooting The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and threatened to punch Robert Duvall on the set of True Grit.

John Wayne vs. Gene Hackman — who won more Oscars?

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Wayne had starred in dozens of movies before he earned his first Academy Awards nomination for Sands of Iwo Jima in 1950. He had to wait two decades to bring home a statuette.

After picking up a second Oscar nomination in 1961 for The Alamo, Wayne won his lone Academy Award in 1970 for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit

Coincidentally, Hackman’s 1970 movie I Never Sang for My Father, garnered him his second Academy Award nomination in 1971 (he earned a best supporting actor nod for Bonnie and Clyde). Hackman picked up the first of his two Oscars in 1972 after starring in The French Connection, and he later earned two more nominations plus a second win for best supporting actor in Unforgiven

The world will never know if Wayne hated Hackman’s acting in Unforgiven, but the Academy loved it.

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RELATED: John Wayne Almost Stormed the 1973 Oscars to Drag an Actor off Stage: ‘He Had to Be Restrained by 6 Security Men’