The Incredible Rollercoaster Life Of Sam Elliott


Has there been a star with a more iconic baritone voice? By all accounts,  Sam Elliott is the man. With his rugged style, the man has been working in the movie industry for half a century! Here are some incredible details you probably don’t know about the mustache-wearing legend.

Not Following Father’s Wishes

The son of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker, Sam Elliott had to heavily convince his dad to help him fulfill his dream to become an actor. However, it had a big impact on their relationship.

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A Tragic Ending

At just 18 years of age, Sam Elliott was informed that his dad had tied as a result of a heart attack. Despite their complicated relationship, Sam was naturally distraught by the loss. He wanted to prove something to his dad. “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path,'” he said. “And I think on some level that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”

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Off To A Good Start

There is no denying that a highly focused dose of praise can go along way, especially in the acting industry. When Sam was still young and coming up in the game, a newspaper published a review about his performance in the local production of Guys and Dolls. They gave him the ultimate praise, claiming that Elliot had the acting chops to make it in the big time. Delighted by the praise, the actor moved to Hollywood to pursue his dreams.

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Working For A Living

When it comes to actors seeking to come up in Hollywood, getting a job as a waiter is synonymous with the lifestyle. You walk into a cafe in this part of the world, chances are you’re being served by someone who wants to be a star. However, Sam Elliot was a bit different. Instead of working as a waiter, he spent his early days working in part-time construction. With plenty of opportunities in this industry, Sam was sorted in between auditions.

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Military Man

It is no secret that Sam Elliot has had a number of roles as characters in military situations. However, what some don’t realize is that the actor’s first hint of experience in the military was actually for real. At one point, Elliot was part of the California Army National Guard during his time in the Golden State. Not only did it stand him in good stead for this type of role, but Elliot also commented on how those years enhanced his discipline and leadership skills.

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Getting His Start

Every actor has to start somewhere to get their name out there. For Sam Elliot, it was a pretty modest role that kicked things off. His first on-screen role came in an episode on the hit TV series The Felony Squad. This wasn’t all though. Elliot also appeared on another two episodes of the show the following year. After future casting directors noticed this little credit on his resume, they were ready to take a chance with him.

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Big Screen Debut

Although Sam Elliot’s debut on the big screen was also fairly modest, it was in an extremely significant movie. He may have been credited as Card Player #2, but there is no denying the cultural significance that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has had on the world of movies. The most ironic part about his on-screen debut though was that his future wife was the star of the movie – Katharine Ross. Amazingly, they didn’t even meet during the movie’s production.

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Small Roles Continue

It would take a while before Sam Elliott became a household name. Nevertheless, he maintained a quiet reputation as a well-respected B-list actor, especially during the late 60s/early 70s. With minor roles in shows such as Lancer, Land of the Giants, The F.B.I., and Bracken’s World, Elliott was certainly a recognizable face. He was also noticed for his role as Richie Robinson in the movie The Games.

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Blossoming TV Career

With time, Sam Elliott’s profile got higher and higher with every movie and TV role. After landing recurring roles in hit shows such as Mission: Impossible and Once an Eagle, the actor was becoming a better-recognized face with every role. In 1974, his biggest role yet had arrived, landing the title role of Even Knievel in the show of the same name.

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Love Connection

As previously mentioned, Sam and Katharine Ross would eventually tie the knot. However, they never met while being on the same set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. However, the future couple had a very different experience a few years later. When Elliott had his first starring role in the film The Legacy, this was the first time that he met Katharine. It wouldn’t take long before the couple hit it off.

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Shy Guy

It might be hard to believe, but Sam Elliott is apparently an extremely shy person. It is reported that the actor just couldn’t build up the courage to approach Katharine Ross on the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was only later on in life when he was finally confident enough to speak with her. “I didn’t dare try to talk to her then,” he said. “She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene.”

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Showing Off His Assets

One movie that provided a lot of firsts in the career of Sam Elliott was The Legacy. For a start, it was the first time he had been the leading character in a movie. That’s not all though. It was also the first time he met a real-life romantic interest on set. Also, it was the first time he had ever shown his backside on camera! It turns out that the scene was a hit with the critics and the fans.

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Katharine Fell For Him

The question on everyone’s lips was the following: what did Katharine Ross see in Elliott? She was asked the question in many interviews, with some speculating that it was his straight-forward nature, or maybe his voice. It could’ve even been his mustache. “Probably all that and more,” she said. “We were working together and one thing led to another.”

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Controversial Relationship

It turns out that Sam and Katharine’s relationship wasn’t so clear cut after all. In fact, it was considered to be quite controversial seeing that the actress was still married to Gaetano Lisi at the time. Amazingly, it was her fourth marriage. However, it came to an end in 1979 and before she knew it, Katharine was planning he future with Sam.

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Not Interested In Being A Sex Symbol

With time, Sam Elliott was becoming a real hit with the ladies, especially after his role in The Legacy, as well as his highly publicized relationship with Katharine Ross. So much so that in a 1979 issue of Playgirl, the couple were referred to as “Hollywood’s Sexiest Couple.” However, Elliott was adamant that he didn’t want to develop this sort of reputation. “There’s a great stigma that goes with that tag,” he said. “I want to be Sam Elliott.”

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Unable To Film

One movie that Sam Elliott was supposed to be in but got replaced last minute was The Ambush Murders. He was supposed to play the role of lawyer Paul Marshall, a lawyer who is defending a black political activist who is wrongfully charged with the murders of two white cops. However, became Elliott became pretty ill while filming the flick, it was ultimately James Brolin who took the role instead.

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Tying The Knot

After years of happily dating and with all the drama behind them, Sam and Katharine finally tied the knot in 1984. Amazingly, it was the fifth time that Ross had tied the knot with someone. However, for Elliott, it was his first ever marriage. It wouldn’t take long before the couple started to build a family and brought a child into the world. Their daughter Cleo Rose Elliot was born and it looked like things were going very well.

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Almost Passed On Mask

There is no denying that one of the biggest roles of Elliott’s career is in the movie Mask. His role was a biker who was in a relationship with a character played by none other than Cher. Amazingly though, the actor almost didn’t take the role. His agent got in touch with him while he was on his honeymoon in Hawaii and told him that he wouldn’t be able to do a screen test for the part.

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Wifey Knows Best

Despite things looking bad for Elliott, Katharine Ross decided to take matters into her own hands. She called the agent and insisted that her husband would be coming back. Not only was the movie huge, but it also made Elliott a household name. “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,” A reporter from The Los Angeles Times wrote.

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A Cowboy’s Life

One thing was for sure, producers loved using Sam Elliott in Western movies. With roles in classics such as The Quick and the Dead, Tombstone, and You Know My Name, Elliott was at one point the go-to man for Westerns. The actor was eventually inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

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Where Sam Got His Work Ethic

One thing that separates Sam Elliott from many of his Hollywood contemporaries is his no-nonsense tough guy work ethic. It turns out that the actor credits his dad, of all people, for adopting such a blue-collar style grit. Sam recalls how his dad and friends “were all men’s men and outdoorsmen.” This is what inspired him the most.

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The Evolution Of Sam’s Voice

If there is one thing that fans recognize Elliott for the most, it’s his voice. As far as Ashton Kutcher is concerned, who worked alongside Elliot in The Ranch, he could virtually relate “everything.” However, the actor didn’t always have such an iconic voice. Some of his earlier roles demonstrate that Elliott had a higher voice. He said that it “kept going down the older I got.”

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Sam’s Secret To Longevity

One important detail about Elliott is his tendency to be picky about his movie roles. “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,” he said. Sam is a firm believer that fans will get sick of certain performers if they see them on everything.

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Almost Didn’t Play Wade Garrett

One absolute cult classic that Sam Elliott will be remembered for is the Patrick Swayze-led movie Road House. However, the actor was originally considered to be the big bad of the movie, villain Brad Wesley. However, Elliott felt like he was a better fit for the role of Wade Garrett, and the rest was history.

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The Big Lebowski

It seems like Sam Elliott has become a huge hit with younger generations, especially after his role in the cult classic The Big Lebowski. In fact, it turns out that long before he was cast in the minor role, it actually said in the script that “the voice-over sounds not unline Sam Elliott.” It also states that the characters look “like a drugstore cowboy, looking not unlike Sam Elliott.”

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On To Another Big Role

You know what they say – one thing leads to another. This is exactly what happened after Elliott’s role in The Big Lebowski. Filmmaker Rod Lurie loved the dynamic between the actor and Jeff Bridges. Therefore he wrote the movie The Contender with the intention of having the two actors join forces once again. Both obliged, and Elliott was thrilled to star in a movie that was a little different from his previous roles.

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Serious Family Drama

Just because someone experiences career success doesn’t mean that all is well in their personal life. This is certainly the case with Sam, as back in 2011, his wife Katharine was forced to get a restraining order against their daughter Cleo. According to court documents, Cleo stabbed Katherine with scissors and threatened to kill her. The court said that Cleo had to stay at least 100 yards away from her mother at all times, lest she be arrested and taken to jail.

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Making Amends

Since the restraining order was a temporary emergency one – not a permanent one – when neither Katharine nor Cleo showed up to court, it was automatically canceled. Ever since that tough time, Sam, Katharine, and Cleo have put in the hard work to make sure their family unit is happy and healthy. Cleo lives in Malibu, California and works in the music industry.

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The Mustache Man

In a sea of character actors, there’s one distinct thing about Sam Elliott that majorly sets him apart from his competition. Critics and audiences all agree that yes, Sam’s mustache is as much of a star as he is. Sam’s mustache is so widely admired, that in 2015, he had the honor of being inducted into none other than the International Mustache Hall Of Fame.

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Family Heritage

Every artist has a reason for picking his projects, and in an interview, Sam explained why he was drawn towards doing Western movies. “My family had a relative who fought at the Alamo,” he explained. ‘I’ve got history in Texas.” The fact that he’s such a man’s man with a bushy mustache and rugged face to match definitely didn’t hurt matters!

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He Can Do It All

Just because Sam is best known for his acting career, he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. A jack of all trades, he’s had mild success in producing and writing, and more surprisingly, he’s got some vocal talent as well. He sang a song from the soundtrack of Barnyard (2006) and produced the Netflix series The Ranch.

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Love That Lasts

When Sam and Katharine Ross first started their love affair, many believed it wouldn’t last – and for good reason. Before marrying Sam, Katharine had been married and divorced a whopping four times. However, now the couple is having the last laugh, having been married for 33 years. “We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together,” Sam revealed in an interview. Even marriage counselors agree with Sam that communication is key. Sam Elliott admits, “She is the love of my life”.

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He’s Got It All

Sam is pretty upfront about how lucky he is. He shared in an interview that, “The two things that I wanted in my life were to have a movie career and to be married, to have a family,” Sam told a journalist. “And it’s an embarrassment of riches that I’ve got both.” It’s good to see that fame hasn’t gone to his head and he still is humble enough to appreciate what he’s got.

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What’s He Worth?

After such a long and distinguished career, in so many popular films, of course, we are curious exactly how much money Sam’s raked in over the years. While he’s private about the exact figure, it’s been reported that he’s worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 million! Considering the fact that he’s also made some wise real estate investment decisions, we see how he managed to make himself a multi-millionaire.

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Sam’s Secret Trick

When Sam started his career in Hollywood, Tinseltown was a totally different place. The studio contract system ruled and was the ultimate make-or-break for actors. Basically, Sam charmed the ladies at the Fox Motion Picture Studios offices and got first dibs on the new scripts rolling in. If he found a script he liked, he’d cut out the middleman and get in touch directly with the casting directors.

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Notable Voice Role

Everyone knows that Sam Elliott has a distinctive voice, but you may not have known just how pervasive his recognizable voice really is. Believe it or not, he’s actually the voice of fire safety bear Smokey Bear, having done the part since 2008. His naturally gruff voice is the absolute perfect fit for Smokey.

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Always A Perfectionist

Someone who’s been as successful as Sam typically rests on their laurels, but Sam surprisingly is his own harshest critic. He has stated in an interview that he’s sad he didn’t have much formal training as an actor in his early working days, thinking out loud that he “might have been a more interesting actor| had he been taught more. He even revealed that sometimes he watches his old movies and wishes he could go back and re-do them!

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Creative Control

Sam has something that’s rare for an actor these days – artistic integrity, meaning that he doesn’t just do any old project that comes his way. He values quality over a paycheck. When asked about the financial risks he takes by passing up projects that don’t excite him and offering his criticisms to directors and screenwriters, he simply said: “I’d rather be a pain in the ass and make better art.”

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Sam’s Love For Westerns

Sam’s Alamo family heritage and man’s man appearance definitely helped him get cast in Western movies. But there’s more to it than looking the part. He revealed in an interview that he did Western movies because he appreciates their deeper messages. He explained, “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.”

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The Reason He Did It

Everyone cares about their parents’ approval, and even tough talking Sam Elliott was hurt by his father’s initial rejection of his acting career. He explained how devastated he felt that his father thought pursuing an acting career was a mistake on Sam’s part. “That’s the worst part of it,” Sam revealed in an interview. “When you don’t think your dad’s proud of you.” Sam explained that his father was proud of him for his fishing and hunting pursuits.

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What’s Sam Up To?

Sam’s been laying low lately, so you might be wondering what he’s been up to in the last few years. Let’s break it down: he starred in the Netflix series The Ranch, which he also produced. He’s gone behind the camera for the upcoming A Star is Born, featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. He also appeared with his real-life wife Katharine Ross in 2017’s The Hero.

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Fond Memories

It’s a question that’s commonly asked of actors with long-lasting careers, and one journalist naturally asked Sam what his favorite role of his career so far has been. Sam said The Hero, not because of the role but because of the cast and crew. “I think what I remember most about films are the people rather than the films themselves,” Elliott said in an interview, then subsequently stated that the film was a “labor of love.”

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Fits Just Right

When an actor seems totally at ease in a part, often times we say the part was made for them. However, in The Hero, the lead role of Lee Hayden was, in fact, written specifically for Sam Elliott! Sam said in an interview that he was “totally flattered” that the movie’s screenwriter and director Brett Haley engineered a project specifically to showcase his talent.

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His Biggest Influences

The old saying goes “No man is an island”, meaning that one cannot be successful without cooperation and assistance from others, and Sam Elliott is no exception to the rule. “To be honest with you I think my parents made the biggest difference in my life,” Sam said. “He [Sam’s father] was a man’s man, and that rubbed off on me. My mom has always been completely supportive of my work.”

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Doesn’t Feel Typecast

It would be easy to assume that Sam feels typecast in the role of Western tough-talking cowboy, but instead, Sam has embraced the genre of movies that have made him famous. He himself is a major fan of Westerns, explaining in an interview that, “I think there’s a real truth to Westerns and a real simplicity to them that appeals to people.”

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It’s Not All About The Money

Sam has said many times in interviews he only takes on roles if he truly connects with the project. Of course, when Sam was a young starving artist, it was a different story and he took on many unseemly projects for a steady paycheck and exposure. One of Sam’s biggest motivations for doing so many commercial voice-overs was because of the financial stability he gained from them, enabling him to pick and choose only the film roles he was passionate about.

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His Thoughts On Katharine’s Career

Sam and Katherine Ross have sustained their marriage for a whopping three decades – 33 years, which is definitely a miracle in Hollywood (where a marriage over a year-long is considered almost record-breaking). But Sam explained in an interview that the secret to their happiness is that Katharine was more focused on their family life than her career. He said she’s not been a “fame-chaser.”

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Beef’s For Dinner

Not only movie audiences appreciate Sam’s distinctive voice – advertising executives quickly took note of his powerful soundbox. A few years ago, he became the voice behind the uber-popular beef commercials. However, the demands of the beef barons started wearing on him, and Sam revealed that he “started to bristle” at the work after too much drama from company executives.

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Sam’s Seen Changes

Sam’s Hollywood career has spanned over five decades, and of course, throughout a half-century in the entertainment industry, he’s seen some major upheavals and advances. What’s the biggest difference between now and the beginning of his career? “Changes that have been made in the technological world have revolutionized the movie business on almost every level,” Sam said in an interview. “There are some constants that are never going to change.”

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Focusing On Each Day

Sam is a true maverick, who cares solely about his own artistic integrity and being true to his own vision. Instead of looking wistfully back at the past, or dreaming of the future, he chooses to focus his energy only on his current project.”It’s hard work, but it’s a creative, artistic process,” Sam said in an interview. “And if you can’t enjoy that, then you’re going about it wrong.”

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Mustache Wars

Since Sam and Tom Selleck are real-life bosom buddies, everyone compares their mustaches. One journalist asked Sam who has the better mustache, and Sam returned with an evasive answer. Sam 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. “I don’t think he’s ever grown his out the way I’ve grown mine out over the years.”

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Another Project In The Works

A Star Is Born, featuring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, is an upcoming project of Sam’s where he switched up his typical role. Instead of acting, aside from a brief cameo in the film, he actually worked behind the camera as the director. In an interview, he gushed about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s thespian skills and said making the movie was “an amazing experience.”

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