Sam Elliott is best known as the rugged, handsome western actor with the tantalizing deep voice. However, there is so much more to Sam Elliott than the media has publicized. This is the unknown life story of Sam Elliott.
His Father Was Skeptical Of Acting
Sam Elliott was born on August 9, 1944 in California. However, he spent most of his childhood in Oregon. His father, Henry, worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Therefore, when Sam began acting at age 9, Henry was very wary of his decision to act. Elliott’s chosen path would cause a rift in their relation and would continue for most of his childhood.
Never Reconciled With His Father
Sam Elliott’s father had a hard time accepting the fact that his son wanted to be an actor. Tragically, when Sam was 18-years-old, he father died from a heart attack. “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path,'” Elliott said in interview. “And I think on some levels that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”
Local Paper Helped Boost His Confidence
Elliott graduated from David Douglas High School and went on to continue his studies at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. While completing his two year program, he was cast in one of the leads of Guys and Dolls. His performance was so stellar that the local newspaper suggested that Elliott should be come a professional actor. He really took that advice to heart and moved to Hollywood.
Worked In Construction To Pay The Bills
What many people do not realize is moving to Hollywood is not as glamorous as it seems. Most actors move there have to live in a tiny apartment and hope that they can even get auditions. Sam Elliott was no exception. When he first moved back to California, he had to work construction part-time in order to pay the bills.
Served In The Military
While going to auditions Elliott worked in construction to make ends meet, but he also decided to work somewhere else – the U.S. military. While living in California, Elliott joined the California Army National Guard (CAL ARNG). The purpose of the CAL ARNG is “to organize, train, equip, and resource community based land forces to support state and/or federal authority”. This training in discipline and leadership helped him become the man he is today.
First On Screen Gig
Sam Elliott landed his first on-screen role in 1968. He played the character of Jack on the episode “Kiss Me, Kill You” in the TV series “The Felony Squad”. The show would give him two more small roles – one later in 1968 and one in 1969. Although this seemed like a small step, these few small roles began his career path into film acting.
His Wife Had A Bigger Role Than Him
Soon after his first few TV appearance, Elliott landed a role in the hit 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. He had the role of Card Player #2, a very small role in the film. However, his future wife, Katharine Ross, was the female lead of the film. Oddly enough, the two never met during the filming. However, no surprise as the iconic female lead of Etta Place probably didn’t have time for Card Player #2.
Only Landing Small Roles
Sam Elliott finished the 1960s, as well as, began the 1970s landing very small roles in film and TV. He appeared on multiple episodes of the TV series “Lancer”, as well as had roles on shows such as “Land of the Giants”, “The F.B.I.”, and “Bracken’s World”. He also landed a role in the film “The Games”. This was his first movie character that was actually given a name – Richie Robinson.
Finds Stardom On TV
The 1970s was the time when Elliott’s career really began to grow. He began landing more prominent roles. He had recurring roles on series such as “Mission: Impossible”, “Once an Eagle” and “Aspen.” He also continued to land roles (with names) in several films. He even was the titular character on the TV movie biopic “Evel Kinevel” in 1974. However, soon his work as secondary characters paid off.
In the late 1970s, Elliott landed the leading male role in the film “The Legacy”. Although Elliott didn’t win any awards for the film, he left with something much better – a girlfriend. Although they both appeared in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott didn’t meet until the filming of “The Legacy”. They began dating soon after their official meeting.
He Was Too Nervous To Approach Her
Katharine Ross’ beauty is timeless. It should come as no surprise that Elliott definitely noticed her while he was filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. However, he was way to nervous to approach the female lead. In 2015, in an interview with AARP Magazine, Elliot said “I didn’t dare try to talk to her then. She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene.”
Elliott Bares All
In the film, The Legacy Sam Elliott has a scene where his bare bottom is shown. “The Bare Facts” is a guide for all nudity in films. The guide helps you locate where there are scenes of nudity as well as gives a ranking to said nudity. The guide gave Sam Elliott’s bottom 3 stars – the high ranking one can earn.
She Was Attracted To Everything
In the film “The Legacy”, Elliott’s bare behind is shown. Was it his bottom that attracted Ross to Elliott? When she was asked what she was first attracted to – was it his baritone voice, good looks or Mustache? Her response to that question in the Mercury News was “Probably all that and more. We were working together and one thing led to another. And here we are.”
Katharine Was Married When They Met
When Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott met and began a romance, Kathrine Ross was still married. At the time, she was married to Gaetano Lisi. Lisi was her fourth marriage, and eventually, her fourth divorce. Lisi and Ross got divorced in 1979, which allowed Elliot and Ross to move their romance to the next level.
Didn’t Want To Be A Sex Symbol
After filming “The Legacy” as well as his relationship with the beautiful Katharine Ross, Elliott’s fame began to sky rocket. Women everywhere wanted to know more about this rugged man with the southern drawl. In an interview with Playgirl magazine in 1976, Elliott said “I don’t want to be known as a sex symbol. There’s a great stigma that goes with that tag. I want to be a Sam Elliott.”
Replaced By James Brolin
In 1982, Elliott was filming “The Ambush Murders.” The film was about an African-American political activist who is wrongfully imprisoned for killing two white policemen, and the Caucasian lawyer who helps represents him in his case. Elliott was signed on to play the lawyer of Paul Marshall. Unfortunately, he got sick and was forced to drop from the TV movie. He was replaced with James Brolin.
Marriage To Katharine
In 1984, Katharine and Sam decided to tie the knot. This would be Katharine’s fifth marriage and Elliott’s first. Their family was expanded the same year, of their wedding, when their daughter Cleo Rose Elliott was born, in September. The family would later deal with many issues.
Originally Turned Down The Role In ‘Mask’
Many would say Elliott’s big break, as well as, the major turning point in his career, was landing the role of Cher’s biker boyfriend in the film, Mask. However, Elliott nearly passed on the role. Elliott was on his honeymoon with Ross, in Hawaii, when his agent called him and told him to come back to California for a test for the role. Elliott said no. However, Katharine had a different opinion.
Katharine Is The Reason He Was In ‘Mask’
After Elliott told his agent he wouldn’t be returning, Katharine quickly vetoed that decision. She called back his agent and told him Sam would return for the test. Ross’ new wife instincts kicked in because the character became a defining role of his career. The Los Angeles Times later said about his role “His portrayal of the compassionate biker Gar has received nearly as much critical attention as the performances by the film’s stars, Eric Stoltz and Cher.”
Although Elliott was already known for being a great cowboy, his role in ‘Mask’ truly put his name on the Hollywood map. Roles were being offered to Elliott left and right. He has played the rugged cowboy in many, many productions such as The Quick and the Dead (1987), Houston: The Legend of Texas (1986), Tombstone (1993) and You Know My Name (1999). He was even inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, in 2007.
Attributes His Persona To His Dad
Although Elliott was only able to spend 18 years of his life with his father, he attributes much of his tough guy attitude to his father. In an interview with NPR, Elliott said “And I was with my dad and my – and his peers, who were all men’s men and outdoorsmen. All had incredible work ethics and were all good men. And they were really the ones I think that I learned what kind of a man I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Didn’t Always Have That Voice
Believe it or not Sam Elliott says he did not always have the baritone voice that everyone loves. The difference in his tone of voice is prominent if you compare his earlier roles, like in the “Lifeguard” to now. When asked about his voice, in an interview NPR, he said “No, no, no. It came with age. It just kept going down the older I got – can’t imagine it’s going to go much further.”
Picky About His Career Choices
Due to the nature of the business, sometime actors work on productions they are not necessarily excited about. However, Sam did not fit into that mold. According to IMDB, Sam said “I’m picky, very picky. I wanted to be an actor since I was nine years old and I figured that was only one way to ever have any longevity and that’s to be careful about what kind of work you do. You can work for money, do a lot of whatever comes your way and not have any kind of a yardstick to measure quality by, and people, you know you’ll make a lot of money if you’re lucky, and people will get fed up and sick of seeing you and that’s it onto the next one.”
Originally Turned Down ‘Road House’
Sam Elliott’s role of Wade Garrett was one for the history books. His performance is iconic. Elliott actually almost didn’t portray that role, as he originally turned down the movie. However, it was because he was initially offered to play a different character – Brad Wesley. Elliott immediately turned down the role. Through a mutual friend, the script came back to Elliott but this time he was asked to play the role of Garrett, a job which he took. Brad Wesley was played by Ben Gazzara.
The Dude Abides
Although it was a small role, Sam Elliott’s role in “The Big Lebowski” is one of his more well known. The role was actually written with Sam in mind when the Coen brothers were writing the script. Elliott was very excited to originally receive the script. “As I opened up and read, you know – a couple of pages in, and it’s talking about this voice-over. And it said literally on the page, the voice-over sounded not unlike Sam Elliott,” Elliott said in an interview with NPR. “And then later on when he appears in the bowling alley, here’s this guy dressed like a drugstore cowboy, looking not unlike Sam Elliott. So I guess they wrote it for me. They certainly wrote it with me in mind.”
Daughter Threatens To Kill Katharine
In 2011, the Elliott family was thrown into scandal. Katharine filed a restraining order on her daughter Cleo after Cleo allegedly stabbed her with scissors. The court document reported that Cleo allegedly said to her mother “I want to kill you.” The restraining order was granted and Cleo was ordered to stay at least 100 yards away from her mother. Cleo was 26-years-old at the time, and Katharine was 71-years-old.
Restraining Order Thrown Out
Later in 2011, both Katharine and Cleo were supposed to attend a court date in order to decide if the temporary restraining order should be extended. However, neither parties attended the court date. Therefore, the judge decided to have the case thrown out. Since the incident, Cleo and her parents have been working on their relationship. Today, Cleo is a musician living in California.
Sam Elliott has been known his good looks, baritone voice, and handlebar mustache. His mustache being an iconic symbol of his western cowboy days. So much so, that is 2015, Elliott was inducted into the inaugural class of International Mustache Hall of Fame, in the category Film & Television. Other members of the Film & TV category include Richard Pryor, Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck.
Has Roots To The Old West
Sam Elliott not only performs as a great cowboy, but it is also in his blood. In an interview with Slate Magazine, he was asked about how he felt about being a symbol of the Old West. He responded “I have a heritage from the West. My family had a relative in the Alamo. I’ve got history to Texas… It is because of that I always hearken to [western roles], that family heritage.”
Jack Of All Trades
Sam Elliott is obviously an amazing actor. However, many do not know that he also has producing, writing and even singing credits to his name. He most recently helped produced the Netflix series “The Ranch”, in 2017. His singing credit comes from the soundtrack on the animated 2006 film “Barnyard,” in which Elliott voiced the character Ben the cow. The track he sings is titled “I Won’t Back Down.”
Although Ross had been married 4 times before, it seems as though 5th time was a charm for her. Elliott and Ross have now been married for 33 years. In an interview with AARP, Elliott said although it is sometimes work to stay together, all their turmoils together are worth it. “We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together,” he said. “You work past the s–t; you don’t walk away from it. That’s how relationships last.”
He’s Only Ever Wanted Movies & Marriage
Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross defy the Hollywood standards with both having a successful career along with having a successful marriage (of over 30 plus years). Elliott couldn’t be happier about it. “The two things that I wanted in my life were to have a movie career and to be married, to have a family. And it’s an embarrassment of riches that I’ve got both,” Elliott said in an interview with NPR.
Has Large Net Worth
Sam Elliott has been doing rather well for himself in the financial side of his life. Since making it big in the industry, he has been able to take on several ventures in order to make money. The obvious venture is acting. However, he has also advantageously used his deep voice for voice over work in commercials. He also has at least two properties in the U.S. Overall, his reported net worth is $16 million.
Had An Advantage That Helped Him Land Roles
Sam Elliott was amongst the last rounds of actors to be recruited in Hollywood by the “studio system.” He was actually in the same class as Tom Selleck (before they both had mustaches). Selleck and Elliott ended up becoming buddies with the workers in the law office of Fox studios. All scripts had to be sent through the law office before they were sent to casting directors. The women, in the office, invited Elliott to read any script he would like, before they were sent out. Elliott did just that. When he found a script he liked, he went directly to the casting director and asked to audition for a role in a movie he or she hadn’t even been given yet.
Voices Smokey Bear
Smokey Bear was created by the American Ad council in association with the United States Forest Service, as well as the National Association of State Foresters, in order to educate people about the dangers of wildfires. Since 2008, Sam Elliott has been the voice of this character. With his deep voice, Elliott was the obvious choice for the designers.
Feels Like He Could Be A Better Actor
There is a saying that goes “you are your toughest critic.” Sam Elliott is no exception. According IMDB, Elliott once said “I think I might have been a more interesting actor, had more of a career earlier on, if I had more formal preparation. When I see something ten years later that I was in I think, “Boy, would I love to do that over.”
Always Willing To Put His Creative Foot Down
We already know that Sam Elliott was picky when choosing the roles he wanted to play. However, he was also always involved on the creative sides of things. He has disagreed with directors and rewrote screen plays. However, he believes it was all for the better of the production. “I’d rather be a pain in the a– and make better art,” than “roll over for it,” he said in an interview during Off Camera with Sam Jones.
Sam Elliott has embraced his role as the go-to guy for Westerns. According to Biography.com, Elliott said of his penchant for westerns: “I think it has something to do with integrity and a man’s word and honor and all that kind of stuff––values, morality, all that kind of stuff that everybody looks kind of down their nose at.”
Did It All To Make His Dad Proud
As stated earlier, Sam and his father disagreed greatly on his career path. However, Sam was still highly influenced by his father. “I wanted him to be proud of me. Thats the worst part of it. When you don’t think your dad’s proud of you,” Elliott said during an interview on Off Camera with Sam Jones, “I knew he was in other areas. You know, I could catch more trout than he or any of his friends. He was proud of that… I don’t think he got the theatre arts.”
Katharine and Sam have recently reentered into Hollywood fame with multiple new productions. Sam recently starred in the Netflix series “The Ranch” alongside Ashton Kutcher. He will also star in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born”, as Bobby. The film is set to be released in 2018. In 2017, Katharine and Sam joined forces once again on screen for the film “The Hero.” Katharine also had a role in a film currently in post-production titled “Attachments.”
His Favorite Role
While speaking to BUILD, Elliott was asked about his favorite role. His response was not about the characters he has played but rather the casts he has worked with in the past. However, he most enjoyed working with the cast and crew of “The Hero”. “I think what I remember most about films are the people rather than the films themselves,” Elliott said. “I don’t think it will ever get any better than it was on this film [The Hero]. You know, this was on all sides of the camera, it was labor of love for a lot of people.”
‘The Hero’ Was Written For Sam
The 2017 film “The Hero” starring Sam Elliott was actually written specifically for Sam. The director, Brett Haley, wrote the film knowing he wanted Elliott to play the lead of Lee Hayden. Elliott said in an interview with NPR “I was totally flattered that he and Marc would take the time to write an entire screenplay for me. I’ve had a few parts written for me over the years, but I’ve never had a screenplay written for me.”