The Incredible Rollercoaster Life Story Of Sam Elliott


There are few stars in Hollywood history that have carved out the kind of niche for themselves that Sam Elliott has. His distinctive look, baritone voice, and rugged appeal have helped him land roles for about 50 years now. However, there is a lot more to Sam Elliott than a voice or a mustache. You’ll be amazed at some of the things that Sam has done and seen during his life and time in the spotlight.

Not Following Father’s Wishes

Born in 1944 in California, Sam Elliott was the son of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker. Sam’s father, Henry, was not a big fan of Sam’s dream to become an actor. He wanted him to follow in his footsteps and take up service work.

At the age of 9, Sam already knew that he wanted to act for a living, but Henry didn’t think that was a good career path. The ensuing rift would impair their relationship and define much of Sam’s mentality in the future.

A Tragic Ending

Sam was only 18 and not yet a success when his father died of a heart attack. Therefore, Sam never had the chance to prove his father wrong or change his mind. It goes without saying, Sam was heartbroken by that reality.

“He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path,'” said Elliott. “And I think on some levels that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.” His father would proud today.

Off To A Good Start

When you’re young and struggling for success, any kind of encouragement can make a big difference. This was the case when Sam starred in a local production of Guys and Dolls while going to college in Washington. This was very big for him.

A newspaper review complimented his performance and said he had what it took to be a professional actor. Those kind words were all it took to spark some inspiration. Elliott decided to give it a shot and move to Hollywood to pursue his dream. We’re sure glad that he did.

Working For A Living

The stereotype of the struggling actor is that of someone who takes a job as a waiter in order to make ends meet. No everyone is quick to pick up a tray and work for tips in a diner. Some people have to take up something a little more extreme.

Sam’s blue-collar background meant that he took a different route, working in construction part-time between acting auditions to scrape together a living. Fortunately, there was no shortage of construction work available in California at the time.

Military Man

Sam Elliott has portrayed many actors throughout his career. A talented actor can become many characters within a moments notice. Later Elliott would take a number of roles where he portrayed military characters, but his first military role was in real life.

He joined the California Army National Guard while living in California, which he credits with helping him hone not only his discipline but also his leadership skills over the years. Believe me, these skills will definitely help you out in the acting world.

Getting His Start

Sam Elliott started his career off rather modestly, as his first on-screen role was in an episode of the TV series The Felony Squad. This could be dangerous for an actors aimed for the big time. TV actors will often stay TV actors and never make it into films.

He would also return two more times in the next year to appear in other episodes. This would help him bolster his resume and ultimately lead to much bigger and better things. At some point, he’d leave television and go into films.

Big Screen Debut

Sam Elliott’s big screen debut was also a very modest role. He played Card Player #2 in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, taking a role that didn’t even have a proper name. Still, the film was a hit and got him in front of more eyes in the process.

Interestingly enough, his future wife Katharine Ross was the female lead in the movie, although they did not meet during filming. We’d say that he started with a great film. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was an instant classic that is still beloved today.

Small Roles Continue

As the 1960s shifted into the early 70s, Elliott continued to find consistent work, but stardom eluded him. He appeared on episodes of Lancer, Land of the Giants, The F.B.I., and Bracken’s World. He also portrayed Richie Robinson in the film The Games.

It was toward the end of the 1970’s that his career took a much more serious approach. The 1970’s was a great time for film. The acting world was full of giants and great films were being pumped out constantly. This had to be an exciting time for Sam.

Blossoming TV Career

Although Sam continued to audition for film roles, it was television that provided him most of his early breaks. He started to get recurring roles in series such as Mission: Impossible and Once an Eagle. Sam Elliott was beginning to be recognized openly.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

His biggest role yet came in 1974, when he starred as the lead character in the biopic Evel Knievel on TV. Evel Knievel was one of the most popular daredevils back in the 1970’s. The movie was extremely popular and propelled Sam into fame.

Love Connection

As mentioned earlier, Sam and Katharine Ross were both in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but never met during filming. They went their separate ways and never really suspected to see each other again. Well, 1978’s The Legacy changed all that.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

Not only was it Sam’s first starring role in a film, but it also marked the first time he and Katharine met. They started dating before long. It wasn’t hard for her to fall in love with all of Sam’s charms. They are still together today.

Shy Guy

It’s hard to imagine someone as confident as Sam Elliott being shy, but he said later that he actually wanted to approach her on the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but was too nervous to do so. We can completely see why.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

He later went on to explain why during an interview. He said, “I didn’t dare try to talk to her then,” Elliott said. “She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene.” We’ve all been in this situation.

Showing Off His Assets

The Legacy was a film that provided a lot of firsts for Sam. It was his first leading film role, his first time meeting the woman who would become his wife, and also the first time he showed his rear end on screen. This was a very special time in Sam’s life.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

Apparently, the scene went over well, as a guide called “The Bare Facts” gave Sam’s scene its highest ranking of three stars. Sam had officially become a top Hollywood actor. He was married to a star and was starring in lead roles. Things were looking good.

Katharine Fell For Him

Everybody wanted to know what it was that first attracted Katharine to Sam Elliott. Later on, she was asked if it was his distinctive voice, straight-forward manner or even his mustache that caught her eye. Then she opened up completely.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

She said the following, “Probably all that and more,” she said. “We were working together and one thing led to another.” This proved to be a real connection as the couple have been together for almost forty years now.

Controversial Relationship

The fact that Sam and Katharine were falling in love was a bit controversial at the time. Why? Because Katharine was actually married at the time to Gaetano Lisi. In the eyes of everyone in America at the time this was seen as something really horrible.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

He was actually her fourth marriage, and by 1979, her fourth divorce. After the divorce, Katharine and Sam started to move their relationship further. Things moved pretty fast for the young couple. Soon it was like they had always been together.

Not Interested In Being A Sex Symbol

Sam Elliott’s fame and roles such as his part in The Legacy led him to be considered a sort of sex symbol. He and Katharine Ross were even labeled “Hollywood’s Sexiest Couple in a 1979 issue of Playgirl magazine. This is a huge honor for any great couple.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

In the accompanying interview, Sam said he didn’t want to be a sex symbol. “There’s a great stigma that goes with that tag,” Sam said. “I want to be Sam Elliott.” Looks like this was largely out of his control. Society would see him as they wanted to see him.

Unable To Film

Sam Elliott portrayed many characters throughout his career. One role that viewers didn’t expect Sam Elliott to play was that of lawyer Paul Marshall in The Ambush Murders. This is one of the roles that stood out as very powerful.

The Unbelievable Life Story Of Sam Elliott

The movie was about a lawyer who represents a black political activist who has been wrongfully charged with the murder of two white police officers. Sam was sick during the filming of the TV movie and ultimately had to be replaced by James Brolin.

Tying The Knot

In 1984, Sam and Katharine finally got married after having dated for several years. Although it was just Sam’s first marriage, it was Katharine’s fifth. Later that year, the couple’s first child was born. It appeared to the world that this love was real.

The happy newlyweds welcomed daughter Cleo Rose Elliott into the world and seemed to be off to a great start. The start was actually much better than either of the two could have anticipated as this marriage would push forth for a very, very long time.

Almost Passed On Mask

One of Sam Elliott’s biggest and definitely most beloved roles would be in the film Mask, where he would play the biker boyfriend of a character played by music and screen star Cher. However, the role nearly didn’t happen and here is why.

Elliott was contacted by his agent while on his honeymoon in Hawaii and said he couldn’t come back to California to do a screen test for the role. This would have been tragic as he is one of the best characters in the film.

Wifey Knows Best

In this case, Sam’s wife knew best. When she heard that Sam turned down the screen test, she called back his agent herself and said that he actually would be coming back. It was a good decision, as the film would be a huge hit and increased his profile in the business dramatically.

“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,” said The Los Angeles Times of Sam’s performance. We see nothing but truth in these words.

A Cowboy’s Life

Although Sam took a variety of roles throughout his long and amazing career, his rugged appeal led to him receiving many roles in Western films and that isn’t shocking at all. Look at the guy, he looks like he was born to play a cowboy in the wild wild west.

This included roles in The Quick and the Dead, Tombstone, and You Know My Name. For his efforts, he was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2007. That is one amazing honor.

Where Sam Got His Work Ethic

Sam’s blue collar work ethic and tough guy appeal is not very common in Hollywood. Sam credits his father for the way he turned out. He said that he spent a lot of time growing up with his dad and his friends, “who were all men’s men and outdoorsmen.”

He said that this is where he got his idea of what a man should be like. The Gary Coopers of the world. The strong and silent type that just has to take care of business despite the hardships. This explains why he loves acting in many westerns.

The Evolution Of Sam’s Voice

Sam Elliott’s voice has long been one of his best features. In fact, his The Ranch costar Ashton Kutcher once said that Elliott should narrate “everything.” He didn’t always have that distinctive baritone, though.

If you watch his earlier roles, you’ll notice his voice was deep, but not like it is now. Sam said that it came with age and “kept going down the older I got.” This is actually good because the audiences seem to really love his very deep voice.

Sam’s Secret To Longevity

Sam attributes his longevity in part to the fact that he’s picky about the roles that he does. “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” He needed to be doing what he loved.

He further stated, “That’s to be careful about what kind of work you do,” Elliott said. Sam warns that actors and actresses who take whatever roles come by burn out as audiences get sick of seeing them. Everyone needs to ultimately be doing what they love.

Almost Didn’t Play Wade Garrett

It wasn’t his most critically acclaimed role, but many fans know Sam Elliott from his supporting role in the Patrick Swayze film Road House. At first, Sam was offered the role of lead villain Brad Wesley. This didn’t sit well with him.

Sam turned down that role, but when he got the chance to play Wade Garrett, he said yes. It was just a role that resonated with him a lot more. I guess some actors really don’t like playing the villain in movies.

The Big Lebowski

Sam Elliott has frequently proven that it’s not the size of the role that matters, but what you do with it. This was never more true than with The Big Lebowski. The Coen brothers obviously had Sam in mind when they wrote the script.

Years later, Elliott noticed that it actually said on the page “the voice-over sounds not unlike Sam Elliott.” Later on, his character is described as looking “like a drugstore cowboy, looking not unlike Sam Elliott.”

On To Another Big Role

Sam’s role on The Big Lebowski directly led to another opportunity. Rod Lurie had written a film called The Contender that he was also set to direct, and he liked the interplay between Jeff Bridges and Elliott.

After Bridges signed on to the film, Newman asked Elliott to join, too. Elliott said yes, noting that a political thriller allowed him to get away from his usual cowboy roles. We’d like to say it is one of the greatest roles in his later career.

Serious Family Drama

Unfortunately, while Sam’s career has been extremely successful, such things don’t mean that private difficulties will never happen. In 2011, Sam’s wife Katharine had to file a restraining order against their daughter Cleo, who was 26 at the time.

Katharine said that Cleo stabbed her with scissors and said “I want to kill you.” Cleo was ordered to stay at least 100 yards away from her mom. Many have to wonder about the events that led up to this attack. Hopefully things were repaired.

Making Amends

The restraining order was a temporary one, and neither Katharine nor Cleo showed up to the court date to extend it, so the case was thrown out automatically. We guess that the argument wasn’t so bad and that they since had patched things up.

Since then, Sam, Katharine, and Cleo have worked to build a stronger, healthier relationship as a family. Cleo now lives in California and is a musician. This will surely give her a more healthier outlet for her emotions.

The Mustache Man

If you asked movie buffs what instantly sets Sam Elliott apart from other actors in the crowded entertainment business, they would undoubtedly say his mustache. He has had the piece on his face for decades and he is known for it.

Although he had some roles without it, particularly earlier in his career, he has been seen with it more often than without. In fact, he was inducted into the first-ever class of the International Mustache Hall of Fame in 2015.

Family Heritage

When asked why he gravitated toward Western films over the years, Sam Elliott once said that he has a family heritage that pulls him toward the legacy of the old West. It isn’t hard to see that Sam Elliott is somewhat of a modern-day cowboy.

“My family had a relative in the Alamo,” he said. “I’ve got history in Texas.” Of course, he was also a very good fit for such roles, which didn’t hurt. Being in these roles kind of gives him a feeling of what life musth ave been life 150 years ago.

He Can Do It All

Although Sam Elliott is known as an actor first and foremost, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t talented in other areas, too. He has also done producing, writing, and even singing in the past. We’d say that he quite the well rounded artist.

He helped produce the Netflix series The Ranch and sang a song on the 2006 animated film Barnyard. As you can see, them an picks his own projects and they all relate to the outdoors lifestyle that was more common back in the old west.

Love That Lasts

When Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross first got together, a lot of people didn’t give it a chance to last. After all, she had been married four times already and their relationship began during her fourth marriage.

However, they have now been married 33 years! “We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together,” Elliott said. He said when they have a problem, they don’t ignore it.

He’s Got It All

To hear Sam Elliott tell it, he’s as happy as can be about his life. He wanted to have a successful career and a happy marriage when he started out, and he has certainly achieved both goals.

“The two things that I wanted in my life were to have a movie career and to be married, to have a family,” Elliott said. “And it’s an embarrassment of riches that I’ve got both.”

What’s He Worth?

It’s only natural to wonder what a star of Sam Elliott’s caliber is worth, especially after the amazing career he has had. It’s said that his net worth is $16 million.

He not only acts, but he also does voice-over work and owns multiple properties within the U.S. His fans would say he’s earned every penny.

Sam’s Secret Trick

Sam Elliott started out in Hollywood back when the studio contract system was alive and well. He and Tom Selleck were recruited in the same pool and buddied up to the law office of Fox’s motion picture studios.

Elliott got in good with the ladies at the office and got to read any new scripts. He would then contact casting directors directly if he liked the scripts.

Notable Voice Role

Sam Elliott has a rather remarkable voice, but you probably didn’t realize that he was the voice of Smokey Bear. The character has been used for years to warn people about wildfire dangers.

Sam began voicing Smokey Bear in 2008, and he had the kind of deep voice that you’d expect a talking bear to have.

Always A Perfectionist

You would think that someone who has been as successful as Sam Elliott has would be perfectly happy with his body of work. Surprisingly, this has not always been the case.

In fact, Sam once lamented the fact that he hadn’t had more formal training earlier in his career, saying he “might have been a more interesting actor.” He said he’ll watch old roles and say he’d like the chance to try them out again.

Creative Control

As everyone knows by now, Sam Elliott doesn’t just do every role that passes his way. But that’s not the extent of his creative control. He has also helped rewrite screenplays and took part in disagreements with directors.

“I’d rather be a pain in the ass and make better art,” he said when asked about his mentality.

Sam’s Love For Westerns

As discussed earlier, Sam’s signature look and Western heritage helped draw him to Western films. But there was more to it than that. He said he likes the old school values in Western movies.

“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,” he joked.

The Reason He Did It

Sam has said at times that his father was a big reason that he took up acting. When Sam’s father didn’t agree with his career path, he felt rejected.

“That’s the worst part of it,” he said. “When you don’t think your dad’s proud of you.” He said that other things he did, such as fishing, made his dad happy, but his knack for acting didn’t help matters.

What’s Sam Up To?

What’s Sam Elliott been up to in recent years? Well, he has starred in the Netflix series The Ranch, which he also produced. He’s also starring in A Star Is Born with Bradley Cooper.

Meanwhile, he appeared with Katharine in the 2017 film The Hero. Katharine most recently filmed a role in Attachments.

Fond Memories

When Sam was asked what his favorite role of his career has been, he decided to focus on the working environment of his many projects, instead.

He said that The Hero was his favorite cast and crew to work with. “I think what I remember most about films are the people rather than the films themselves,” Elliott said, adding that the film was a “labor of love.”

Fits Just Right

Sometimes a role simply fits an actor perfectly. This was the case in The Hero largely because the lead role of Lee Hayden actually was written for him!

Elliott said that he was “totally flattered” that director Brett Haley and the lead screenwriter would write a movie for him.”

His Biggest Influences

Nobody makes it as far as Sam Elliott has without the help of a great mentor along the way. However, when asked who has influenced his life the most, Sam did not name a member of the Hollywood elite.

“To be honest with you I think my parents made the biggest difference in my life,” Sam said. “He [his father] was a man’s man, and that rubbed off on me. My mom has always been completely supportive of my work.”

Doesn’t Feel Typecast

You would imagine that someone who has played in a lot of Westerns would feel typecast or trapped in such roles, but this isn’t the case for Sam Elliott. Instead, he said that the genre speaks to him.

“I think there’s a real truth to Westerns and a real simplicity to them that appeals to people,” he added.

It’s Not All About The Money

Sam Elliott likes to make money as much as the next guy, but he doesn’t put money on a pedestal. He advises other performers to avoid taking jobs just for the paycheck, in fact.

The only time he broke this mantra was when he was just starting out and desperately needed the money and exposure. In fact, he said later that he liked doing commercial voice-overs because it gave him the financial freedom to be choosy about his film roles.

His Thoughts On Katharine’s Career

Sam Elliott has been married to Katharine Ross for over 33 years now and they’re a shining example of how a healthy marriage should be.

However, when it comes to her acting career, Sam admits that she has not been one to “chase it” at this point in her life. Of course, it’s also harder for older women to land film roles, too.

Beef’s For Dinner

You’ve been hearing Sam Elliott’s distinctive voice for years, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. His voice-overs for the beef industry were very successful.

He said he started doing the commercials to help out the hard-working people in the industry, but he “started to bristle at” the work when they started getting more demanding.

Sam’s Seen Changes

It would be an understatement to say that Sam has seen a lot of changes in his nearly 50-year acting career. What’s the biggest difference of all? Sam said that it’s the technology.

“Changes that have been made in the technological world have revolutionized the movie business on almost every level,” Sam said. “There are some constants that are never going to change.”

Focusing On Each Day

Sam Elliott said that he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his legacy or what people will think about his work years or decades from now.

Instead, he focuses on whatever he’s working on at any given time. “It’s hard work, but it’s a creative, artistic process,” Elliott said. “And if you can’t enjoy that, then you’re going about it wrong.”

Mustache Wars

A lot of people have asked Sam Elliott about his mustache over the years, and since he and Tom Selleck are buddies, it’s only natural to ask them whose mustache comes out on top in the battle of the ‘staches.

“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,” Elliott said diplomatically. “I don’t think he’s ever grown his out the way I’ve grown mine out over the years.”

Another Project In The Works

Sam Elliott decided to get on the other side of the camera for A Star Is Born, a film featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga that Elliott also appears in.

Sam said the filming has been “an amazing experience” and has been highly complimentary of both of their abilities as performers in front of the camera.