Rugged Cowboy To Loving Husband: Sam Elliott’s Life Story


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 relationship 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 of a heart attack. “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path,'” Elliott said in an 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.”

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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 become 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.

butch cassidy

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 in 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 in 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 in the TV movie biopic “Evel Knievel” in 1974. However, soon his work as secondary characters paid off.

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‘The Legacy’

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 too 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 three stars – the high ranking one can earn.

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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.”

sama nd katharine

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.

tross and lisi

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 skyrocket. 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.”

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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.”


Western Hero

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, sometimes 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.”

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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.

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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.”


‘The Big Lebowski’ Leads To ‘The Contender’

The writer and director of “The Contender,” Kermit Newman, loved the chemistry between Jeff Bridges and Sam Elliott in “The Big Lebowski.” Therefore, when Bridges signed on to do “The Contender,” Newman knew he also had to get Elliott on board. Elliott was asked to play the film’s Chief of Staff. The role excited Elliott as it was outside his normal “cowboy” role.

Daughter Threatens To Kill Katharine

In 2011, the Elliott family was thrown into a 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.

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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.

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Signature Mustache

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.

elliott and 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.”

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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 produce 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.”

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Strong Marriage

Although Ross had been married four 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.”

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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.

elliott and ross

Has Large Net Worth

Sam Elliott has been doing rather well for himself on 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.

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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.

smokey bear

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 to 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 screenplays. 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.


Why Westerns?

Sam Elliott has embraced his role as the go-to guy for Westerns. According to, 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. That’s 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.”

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New Ventures

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.”

the ranch

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

‘The Hero’ Was Written For Sam

“The Hero” joined the ranks of many people’s favorite Sam Elliott films after it was released. Elliott played the lead role of Lee Hayden so flawlessly. This may have been because the director, Brett Haley, wrote the screenplay knowing Elliott could possibly play the role. During an interview with NPR, Elliott said, “I was totally flattered that he [Haley] 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.”


His Parents Made The Biggest Difference In His Life

Throughout his life, Sam believes that he has had many different mentors that have positively affected his career. However, despite encountering so many Hollywood greats, the two people that made the biggest difference in his life were his parents. When asked about this by CBS, Elliott said “To be honest with you I think my parents made the biggest difference in my life…He [his father] was a man’s man, and that rubbed off on me. My mom has always been completely supportive of my work.”

Enjoys Playing The Cowboy

Sam Elliott for the majority of his career has been known for his cowboy roles. However, this typecast is not something that really bothered Elliott and he actually enjoyed it. “I just think that genre [westerns] has always spoken to me,” he said in an interview with DP/30. “My family heritage comes from Texas for generations. I think there’s a real truth to westerns and a real simplicity to them that appeals to people. It’s pretty black and white.”

Money Is Not The Top Priority

If Sam Elliott understands anything, he understands that money isn’t everything. Furthermore, he rarely takes a job just for the paycheck. “Don’t let that [money] be the number one priority because then that means you’ll do anything, for the right price…I hate that saying,” he told DP/30. The only time he ignored his own advice when he was first starting in the business and needed more money to pay the bills.

Katharine Has One Flaw

Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross have been married for over 30 years and have one of the strongest marriages in Hollywood. However, not everybody is perfect. Although Elliott could gloat about his wife for hours, he says there is one imperfection. She recently hasn’t been given many roles, and she is not happy about it. However, “she never wanted to chase it,” Elliott told DP/30. He tries to motivate her to take steps towards the change she wants.

Did Voice Over Work On Beef Ads For 8 Years

Sam Elliott’s low-baritone voice makes the women melt and the men jealous. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he is often asked to do commercial voice-over work. For many years, he did work for beef advertisements. “I did beef ads for about eight years because I love the people in that industry, and there are a lot of people who make their living in the beef world. Ranchers, primarily,” he told The Guardian. “Those ads pushed the numbers in the marketplace for beef up considerably … but when it got to the point where they kept asking for different takes, different cuts, different deals you can get involved with … I started to bristle at it.”

Biggest Change In Hollywood Since He Started

Sam Elliott has been gracing the silver screen for 50 years. Therefore, he has seen many changes in the movie industry. However, there is one major change that he feels has made a huge difference – the technology. In an interview with The Guardian, he said “Changes that have been made in the technological world have revolutionized the movie business on almost every level. There are some constants that are never going to change. But from a technical standpoint, it’s a whole other world.”

Worried About Now, Not Future

Sam Elliott isn’t worried about leaving a legacy. He is more concerned with the impact he is creating now, especially amongst the relationships with his peers. “It’s about the people I’m working with at the time, and just going in and enjoying the process. It’s hard work, but it’s a creative, artistic process. And if you can’t enjoy that, then you’re going about it wrong,” he told The Guardian.

Thoughts On How His ‘Stache Compare To Selleck’s

Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck are good friends. They both are amongst the last stars to come through the contract system in Hollywood and played very similar roles. However, their beginnings and roles aren’t the only similarities. They both have an amazing, signature mustache. So, does Elliott think his mustache is better than Selleck’s? In an interview with Vanity Fair, he said “I think it all depends on where we are at the time, you know? Right now I’ve got more of a mustache than Tom does, but I know he can grow one,” he told Vanity Fair. “I don’t think he’s ever grown his out the way I’ve grown mine out over the years.”

‘A Star Is Born’

Bradley Cooper’s highly anticipated directorial debut, “A Star is Born,” is set to be released in 2018. Cooper will also star in the film alongside Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott. Elliott completed filming in summer 2017. Elliott told Business Insider, “He’s [Cooper] super intelligent, has an incredible work ethic.And Stefani [Lady Gaga] is equally incredible. She’s going to surprise a lot of people with her acting ability. It’s an amazing experience to be with them both.”