An only child, Bixby was born a fourth-generation Californian of English descent, in San Francisco, California. His father, Wilfred Everett Bixby II, was a store clerk and his mother, Jane (née McFarland) Bixby, was a senior manager at I. Magnin & Co. In 1942, when Bixby was eight years old, his father enlisted in the Navy during World War II and traveled to the South Pacific. While in the seventh grade, Bixby attended Grace Cathedral and sang in the church's choir. In one notable incident, he shot the bishop using a slingshot during a service and was kicked out of the choir. In 1946, his mother encouraged him to take ballroom dance lessons and from there he started dancing all around the city. While dancing, he attended Lowell High School, where he perfected his oratory and dramatic skills as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society. Though he received average grades, he also competed in high-school speech tournaments regionally. After graduation from high school in 1952, against his parents' wishes, he majored in drama at City College of San Francisco, where he was a classmate of Lee Meriwether, another young actress who later won the title of Miss America as Miss California 1954. Bixby and Meriwether later worked together on an episode of Barnaby Jones. During the Korean War, Bixby was drafted shortly after his eighteenth birthday. Rather than report to the United States Army, Bixby joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He served primarily in the personnel management field with Marine Attack Squadron 141 (VMA-141) at Naval Air Station Oakland, and attained the rank of private first class before his 1956 discharge. Later, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, his parents' alma mater, and left just a few credits short of earning a degree. He then moved to Hollywood, California, where he had a string of odd jobs that included bellhop and lifeguard. He organized shows at a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and in 1959, he was hired to work as a model and to do commercial work for General Motors and Chrysler. In 1961, Bixby was in the musical The Boy Friend at the Detroit Civic Theater, returning to Hollywood to make his television debut on an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He became a highly regarded character actor and guest-starred on many television series, including Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Dr. Kildare, Straightaway, and Hennesey. He also joined the cast of The Joey Bishop Show in 1962. In 1963, he played a sailor with a Napoleon tattoo in the movie Irma La Douce, a romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Billy Wilder based on the 1956 French musical. During the 1970s, he made guest-appearances on television series such as Ironside, Insight, Barbary Coast, The Love Boat, Medical Center, four episodes of Love, American Style, Fantasy Island, and two episodes each of The Streets of San Francisco, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery. Bixby was executive producer and co-star of the short-lived sitcom Goodnight, Beantown (1983–84). He also directed three episodes of the series. During the same time, Bixby directed several episodes of another short-lived television series, Wizards and Warriors, which aired in 1983. From 1983 to 1984, he hosted a documentary series for Nickelodeon entitled Against the Odds. The series, which was canceled after only two seasons, consists of short biographies of famous people throughout history. From 1986 to 1987, he hosted the syndicated weekday anthology series True Confessions. In 1987, he directed eight episodes of the satirical police sitcom Sledge Hammer!, including the episode, "Hammer Hits the Rock" in season two, where he made an uncredited appearance as Zeke. Bixby hosted two Elvis specials, both from Las Vegas: The Elvis Files (August 1991) and The Elvis Conspiracy (January 1992). Bixby made his last acting appearance in 1992, guest-starring on an episode of Diagnosis: Murder. He finished his career by directing 30 episodes (in seasons two and three) of the NBC sitcom Blossom. Bixby's father died of a heart attack in 1971, a month before Bill's first wedding. Bixby was married three times. His first marriage was to actress Brenda Benet. They were married on July 4, 1971. She gave birth to their son Christopher on September 25, 1974. In addition to their earlier appearance together on Courtship, Benet guest-starred with him on his The Magician series in 1973, did an episode of The Love Boat with him in 1977, and was a guest on The Incredible Hulk program in 1980 just before they divorced. On March 1, 1981, Bixby's six-year-old son Christopher died suddenly of a rare throat infection. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, near Maui, like his grandfather's. Benet committed suicide on April 7, 1982, following a break-up with her assistant, Tammy Bruce. In 1989, he met Laura Michaels, who had worked on the set of one of his Hulk movies. The couple married a year later in Hawaii. In early 1991, Bixby was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent treatment. He was divorced in the same year. In late 1992, friends introduced him to the artist Judith Kliban, widow of B. Kliban, a cartoonist who had died of a pulmonary embolism. Bixby married Judith in late 1993, just six weeks before he collapsed on the set of Blossom. In early 1993, after rumors began circulating about his health, Bixby went public with his illness, discussing his disease and the energy needed to keep him alive. As a result, he made several guest appearances on shows such as Entertainment Tonight, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, among many others. Bixby's cancer recurred and was diagnosed as terminal. On November 21, 1993, six days after his final assignment on Blossom, he died of complications in Century City, Los Angeles. He was 59 years old. His wife, Judith Kliban, and his longtime friend Dick Martin were by his side. His ashes are at Kliban's Maui estate.
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