Sam Elliot’s Life Story

Image for post
Image for post

Sam Elliot won many hearts in Hollywood, earning a special spot himself like no other actor of his period. All about him is distinct and clearly recognizable, from his tall, intimidating height, his rich and deeply commanding voice, and his dashingly rugged looks (and, of course, his famous mustache). He never exactly got the super-famous ratings of actors like Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford, but his massive on-screen appeal landed him one juicy role after another for fifty years. Well, there’s so much more to Sam Elliot, of course than his dashing good looks and his lovely baritone voice. I am sure this fascinating and engrossing tale about one of the most unexpected stars in Hollywood will leave you amazed! Therefore, let’s start!

Elliot was born to a government staff father and a high school teacher and fitness instructor mother in northern California in the summer of 1944. His father mainly worked at the time as an animal control expert in the wilderness. Sam had already set his sights on becoming an actor from a very early age, believing it to be his calling. His father, however, did not share his vision and thought that it was impractical. He insisted, instead, on the conventional career course, which included a degree from college. This was going to be a lifelong father-son dispute, one that would destroy their relationship and never get a chance to be resolved tragically. But, Sam still credits his father for instilling the work ethics in him and never blamed him for wanting him to choose a tried and tested route to a “practical” career.

When his dad succumbed to a sudden heart attack, Sam Elliot was just 18 years old and nowhere close to stardom. Unfortunately, there was no occasion for closure between the father-son duo who had had a split for quite a long time. And, although the actor has since taken this burden with him, it is very clear that he has never allowed his career to be influenced by it. This incident, however, forced the actor to reevaluate his priorities. Soon after his father’s death, he dropped out of college. Elliot spoke about the death of his father and said, “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path.’ And on some level, I think that was either hard on me or made me more focused on my determination to have a career.”

A kind word or a little motivation will go a long way and have an amazing impact on anyone who wants to hear it. These are the kind of words Sam Elliot wanted to hear when he first appeared in Guys and Dolls, a local production. At that moment, young Sam Elliot was attending college in Vancouver. Even the city newspaper praised his performance in one of its reviews and encouraged him to pursue his career as a professional actor. A few years later, Sam took those words to heart and moved to Hollywood to follow his dream. For many of us, his successes so far reflect a significant lesson. At the right time, the correct words spoken can have a life-changing effect on others. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

For a struggling, unemployed actor, the stereotypical option is to become a restaurant waiter. But the rough outdoor upbringing of Sam meant he was more open to other possibilities. Sam worked construction jobs to make ends meet during his acting studies and in-between auditions. California was booming at the time with construction work, and it was spoiled for options for those willing to take up a job.

Throughout his career, thanks to his tall, powerful frame and commanding appearance, Sam had a variety of positions as a military man. In his younger years or as an army officer in his later years, Sam Elliot always seemed a natural choice for a job as a soldier. In his acting ability, it seems there was a touch of truth, as Sam had a stint with the California Air National Guard at the same time he was in college and working construction jobs. In reality, in his acting career, Sam finds his short time in the military to be important in having learned abilities and discipline.

Although it seemed like it was all going well for the actor, he didn’t turn into a Hollywood star overnight. He had a modest showbiz career, starting with an uncredited appearance in a Douglas western flick, The Way West. Such early roles played a vital role in both developing his acting abilities and making him respected by the right individuals who could take his acting career to the next stage. Elliott’s future was looking bright at this stage.

Elliott’s first screen debut was in a film of real significance but it was not a massive role. He played a debut in the classic Paul Newman and Robert Redford action western film titled “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. In this position, Elliot didn’t even have a name and was only known as Card Player #2. For the budding actor, however, it was still a big break, especially because the movie became a smash hit and his face was seen by millions of people. A woman named Katharine Ross, who played one of the leads in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, ended up as Elliot’s wife in a nice instance of happenstance. In the film, they did not share any scenes and never really got to know each other for almost a decade, but in 1984, they finally tied the knot.

Sam secured steady jobs in front of Hollywood cameras as the years rolled around from the 1960s to the ’70s. But for his breakthrough role during this time, he had to wait a little longer. Sam has appeared on a variety of TV shows, including F.B.I episodes, Bracken’s World, Land of the Giants, and three Lancer episodes. He made an appearance in the film The Games, too.

While Elliot never really stopped auditioning for film roles, often landing some supporting roles, many of his roles were in television shows during this particular period. They also started to get juicier, starting with a recurring 13-episode appearance in the series Mission: Impossible. Soon after, when he played the title role in the biographical TV movie Evel Knievel, he got a big break. Elliot flourished in his early career between 1976 and 1977. In the seven-part mini-series Once and Eagle, which was based on the best-selling war novel, he took a leading role.

Love was brewing at that time. Elliot and Katherine Ross co-starred in The Legacy, a 1978 horror film, almost 10 years after they first appeared in the same film. Note, in the first movie they were in together, Elliot had nothing more than a cameo appearance and the would-be pair never shared any scenes at the time. The Legacy was more than just a crucial moment for Elliot, as it turned out. In a big motion picture, it was not only his first starring role but also the beginning of a friendship with his lovely co-star.

It would later appear that, right from the days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, Sam Elliot had been extremely struck by Katharine Ross. It seemed pretty unlikely that Elliot would be afraid of making the first move, considering his preternatural confidence and charisma. If Sam Elliot, an extremely rugged and handsome chick magnet, was too afraid to make a move on a woman, what chance would the rest of the population have? Years later, Elliot would admit to her first encounter, saying that then he wouldn’t dare attempt to speak to her. “She was the lady in the lead. I was a wall shadow, a glorified extra in a bar scene,’ admitted Elliot.

Instead of being the first time that Elliot exposed his buttocks on camera, working on The Legacy turned out to be a game-changer for him. It was his very first leading role in a big film, and he was awarded three out of three stars for his performance in the film, The Bare Truth, a printed guide to film nudity. To be honest, people are more likely to see or hear a “bare it all” female actor on TV just to get a major career break. But there seems to be an exception to this unspoken “rule.” What did Katharine conclude about millions of people watching her paramour’s ass on the camera?

Was it his rugged appearance? Straight-shooting sense of style? His profound voice? Or a beard, perhaps? The whole world is curious exactly what made Katharine fall in love with her co-star in Legacy. For the pretty actress, what exactly was the clincher? She was particularly reticent about it. When she was asked, all she would say was “probably all of that and more,” and that they worked together and that “one thing led to another.” We will all accept that the exact thing or stuff that makes one person love another is not easy to define. All kinds of things can cause love, and “all that and more” seems to have done it for Katharine.

Sam and Katharine’s marriage, like many marriages, almost instantly ran into difficulties, not least of which was the fact that at the time Katharine was still officially married to film set tech Gaetano Lisi. Their marriage was already at its end and heading straight for divorce, but it was still somewhat scandalous at the time that she became involved with Elliot. She was able to pursue her relationship with Elliot more intensely and more publicly as soon as Ross’s divorce was over. For her, it was nothing new, because she had already been divorced four times before. Sam had never been married, on the other hand.

The point that both of their careers were rising at the time brought a lot of unnecessary attention from the tabloids, which were more excited about their love lives, of course. The publicity was heightened by Sam’s notorious “mooning” scene in The Legacy, so much so that the couple was advertised on the Playgirl Magazine cover of October 1979. They were dubbed “The Sexiest Couple of Hollywood,” essentially destroying any desire for a life of private love. Sam, who preferred to be recognized for his job rather than his ass or his love life, overnight became literally a sex symbol. “The stigma that goes with that tag is fantastic. I want Sam Elliott to be here,” he said in an interview.

In the 1982 TV film The Ambush Murders, viewers missed out on seeing Elliot play his juicy role as the lead. The film told the true story of a black protester who was wrongfully accused of killing two white police officers and an attorney who took his case and sought to acquit him. Back in the 1970s, the case caught the attention of the nation and many individuals could not wait to see the events of the story dramatized in the film. As the defense attorney, Sam Elliot played the lead role but came down with an illness during recording. James Brolin stepped up to substitute for him. Although this was not unprecedented, with the original star, one wonders how different the movie might have turned out.

Before they eventually tied the knot in 1984, Sam and Katharine had been seeing each other for about six years. Compared with Katharine, who was getting into her fifth marriage, Sam was largely inexperienced in marriage. It is hardly believable that this union will continue to be one of the longest, most stable, and loving marriages in Hollywood, just as it appeared to be a mismatch of sorts. The couple almost immediately got down to having kids and had their daughter and only child, Cleo Rose Elliot, who got hitched in the same year. They were well on their way to making the ultimate happy tale ever after.

There came the position that eventually propelled Sam Elliot into mainstream stardom. In the 1985 film Mask, Sam had a supporting role alongside the Oscar-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer Cher. He was cast as the gruff but kind-hearted biker who was involved with Cher romantically, helping to raise her physically-challenged son at the same time. Unfortunately, he missed this role because he was still enjoying his honeymoon when the manager had called him for this opportunity.
Ultimately, he told his agent that he would not be able to make it to California in time for the screening test. He was about to lose the greatest opportunity that had come his way.

Fortunately, Sam’s new bride, the wise one in the relationship evidently, stepped in and took matters into her own hands. As soon as she found out that Sam had refused to go for the screen test, she was alarmed and immediately called his lawyer, telling him that the actor would be there for the screening. The decision of Katharine to take the initiative, as it would later turn out, would prove crucial to securing her husband as a major star in popular Hollywood movies. Sam also managed to steal a few scenes alongside Cher, who was at the peak of her career at that time and made an extraordinary appearance with him. The Los Angeles Times wrote of Elliot’s film success and said that “His portrayal of the compassionate biker Gar received almost as much critical attention as the film’s stars, Eric Stoltz and Cher’s performances.”

Sam Elliot has been intimately associated with the Western genre since the early days of his career, despite a diverse and varied career in all kinds of roles. His unbelievable stature, his good looks, and his outdoor education all helped to shape his manly and tough persona. Sam has acted in several Western films, most notably The Quick and the Dead, Tombstone, You Know My Name, The Hi-Lo Country, and The Desperate Trail. In 2007, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum recognized and honored Elliott’s career by enlisting him into their Hall of Great Western Performers.

Sam Elliot’s rare combination of outdoor ruggedness and strong work ethic is shared by only a handful of Hollywood actors. No one grows up in a bubble, and they don’t just spring from nowhere with these kinds of characteristics. Sam’s childhood is a guide to how he turned out to be a tough, hard-working man. The good thing is that he wasn’t too shy about it. The Hollywood star revealed that he has grown up around his father and his friends who were highly outgoing in nature and labeled them as “outdoor men.” It seems, therefore, that it was as much nurture as nature that shaped him into what he is today.

A long, safe life can be guaranteed by being picky with what you eat. A lasting career can also be guaranteed by being picky about the roles you take in Hollywood. It seems like the game plan of Sam Elliot has always been to stay famous and important as the years roll around. He has also been cited as warning other actors and actresses not to take any part that is offered to them, and that they risk personal burnout and losing their fans otherwise.
Speaking about his acting career, Sam said that even when he was just a kid, he wanted to be an actor. “When I was nine years old, I wanted to be an actor and I thought there was only one way to have some longevity at all, and that was to be careful about what kind of job you’re doing,” he said.

The unfortunate fact is that you can’t be protected from family troubles by any amount of professional success. Cleo, the 26-year-old daughter of Sam and Katharine stabbed Katharine with a pair of scissors in 2011. After death threats from her, Katharine was forced to file a restraining order against her only daughter. The court ordered Cleo to keep her mother a minimum of 100 yards away from her. Although most families go through similar crises, popularity means that the problems of the family are pulled through the press and the curious eyes of the public.

The crisis was temporary and all the family members decided not to appear in court for the extension date of the restraining order to be heard. The case was thrown out immediately and has since been made up by mother and daughter. The family has centered, along with Sam, on improving their relationships. Cleo is now living in California, where she is a professional musician and a model. She is also a writer of songs and plays the guitar as well.

The professional performance of Sam as an actor is incontestable. At his age, no other actor could come near. This is not the whole story, however, of his Hollywood career. In production, writing, and, at least on one memorable occasion, singing, he tried his hand. He’s quite a man of the renaissance. For the 2006 hit animated film, Barnyard, Sam sang a cover of the Tom Petty song, I Won’t Back Down. This is a movie that had his voice work prominently featured. He also created The Ranch, the 18-episode Netflix series that he also starred in.

Although Sam Elliot was never inclined to obsess about the future, he was never one to dwell in the past, either. He’s not too concerned about what his legacy will be for the movie lovers of future generations. Instead, at any given moment, Sam believes in living in the present and concentrating more on the tasks at hand. This is not only a good mindset but one that would probably contribute to the sort of legacy about which many would be fascinated.

Writer | Engineer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store