The stepdaughter of the fire chief of Salisbury, MD, Linda Hamilton began her acting career with local children's theater groups. After college training and dramatic lessons conducted by former director Nicholas Ray, Hamilton was cast in a handful of inexpensive film programs. She briefly costarred in the prime-time TV soap opera Secrets of Midland Heights (1980) which led to an equally short stint on the weekly series King's Crossing (1982). Hamilton's stock in the film industry rose substantially when she was cast as Sarah Connor, the target for the homicidal intentions of futuristic android Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984). No shivering ingenue, the agile and athletic Hamilton proved a formidable foe for the forces of evil in both The Terminator and its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where at times she came off tougher than the "kinder, gentler" Arnold. From 1987-1989, Hamilton starred as Catherine Chandler on the cult TV fantasy series Beauty and the Beast, eventually leaving the show to have her first child.
In 1995 Hamilton earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as a single mother who learns she has contracted AIDS in A Mother's Prayer, and though with the exception of Dante's Peak (1997) she stuck mainly to made-for-television movies in the following decade, notable guest spots on Showtime's Weeds and NBC's Chuck served as strong reminders of her onscreen charisma. Married to actor Bruce Abbot throughout much of the '80s, Hamilton later wed Terminator 2 director James Cameron, though their union ended after just two years.