Yee-haw! Giddy up, if you will, to the wild, wild west of 2006. It was the year that Google bought YouTube and the year that Twitter was born. Barry Bonds broke Babe Ruth's home run record, and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Superbowl. American Idol was the top program on American TV. We lost Pluto that year, and Gerald Ford. The X-Men were making their Last Stand, the Pirates were still firmly in and of the Caribbean, and the average movie ticket cost just $6.55.
It was a wild era. Among the facts and ephemera tucked away into the 2006 history books is a bit of trivia regarding one of the most iconic television westerns of all time. There was very nearly a feature-length Have Gun - Will Travel movie, and that movie very nearly starred Eminem.
It's difficult to overstate just how incendiary a figure Eminem was at the turn of the 21st century. For those who don't recall, Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers) was one of the most ubiquitous — and controversial — figures in all of American culture. He was in the right place at the right time. After paying his dues in the Detroit battle rap community, Eminem drew the attention of hip-hop mega-producer Dr. Dre. With the right beats, the right hooks, and (crucially) the right music videos, Eminem was thrust into the forefront of MTV's Total Request Live era, planting a flag as an anti-boy band monolith. He was, briefly, inescapable. The criticism surrounding his lyrics seemed to only fan the flames and fuel further public interest. Not only was Eminem's music career breaking records, but he also starred in the semi-autobiographical, Academy Award-winning 8 Mile. Nobody was safe from the real Slim Shady, not on the radio nor in the movie theaters.
Controversy creates cash, and Eminem was the king of contentiousness. It should stand to reason, then, that business executives would be quick to capitalize on the figure who courted such fervent public discussion. Chief among those to rush to the cash cow were movie executives who, obviously, took notice of just how successful 8 Mile was. So, what kind of role would be next for the rapper turned movie star?
According to reports in both the Associated Press and The Daily Variety, Paramount Pictures signed Eminem to star as the bounty-hunting protagonist in an updated version of Have Gun - Will Travel, the successful TV western that ran from 1957-1963. Interscope Records spokesman Dennis Dennehy confirmed that the rapper was committed to shooting the movie and was excited about the new role. Paramount, too, was keen for a time, extending an 18-month option on the Have Gun - Will Travel property.
The movie would've updated the setting of the TV show, bringing the bounty hunting to the then-present day. Eminem was set to star as Paladin, the role originally made famous by Richard Boone. In the series, Paladin was an extremely skilled gunfighter. He was a graduate of West Point who sold his skills to the highest bidder. It was a role that earned Boone Emmy nominations in both 1959 and 1960. Eminem, on the other hand, would've been eligible for Oscars and Grammy Awards, as the multi-platinum recording artist was set to be involved with the movie's soundtrack.
Although there is no official statement on why the project fell through, fans will recall that Eminem's personal life in this era was unsuited for stressful work conditions. His drug use and relationship problems may very well have contributed to the movie halting production. Thankfully, though, Elton John of all people intervened, acting as Eminem's sponsor as the rapper fought for sobriety. Today, Eminem is a proud Alcoholics Anonymous coin-holder, who last updated fans in 2020 with an announcement of 12 years sober.
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