Whether it’s from the original “Mission Impossible” television series, his portrayal of Virgil Earp in the film “Tombstone,” crotchety Beau Bennett on “The Ranch” or even his distinctive voice on beer, truck or beef commercials, chances are good you know and love actor Sam Elliott.
But how much do you really know about the 74-year-old actor? These facts about the mustachioed man with the golden voice might surprise you.
He Had A Humble Start
Elliott’s mom, Glynn Mamie Sparks, was a physical training instructor who later became a high school teacher. Dad Henry Nelson Elliott worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The pair wed and had two children: Glenda and Sam.
He’s A Texan From California
Though he was born Samuel Pack Elliott on Aug. 9, 1944, in Sacramento, California, Elliott considered himself a Texan.
“I’m a sixth-generation Texan, even though I was born in California,” he told Parade Magazine. Both of Elliott’s parents were born in the Lone Star State. In fact, the family’s roots go back to the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836.
He Dropped Out Of College
When Elliott was 13 years old, he moved to Portland, Oregon, with his family. He graduated from David Douglas High School in 1962 and enrolled in the University of Oregon with hopes of becoming a track and field star, but he only lasted two terms.
“I had visions of being a ‘Man of Oregon’ but didn’t have what it took and was not ever academically inclined, ” Elliott told Eugene, Oregon’s Register Guard. “I came down here and (messed) around and got booted out.”
He went on to graduate from Clark College in Vancouver, Washington.
He Always Had Dreams Of Acting
Elliott had aspired to be an actor since he was just a young boy. He became fascinated with movies he watched as a child and decided that was what he wanted to do.
“And it wasn’t like I wanted to be a legitimate actor, a real actor,” he told the A.V. Club. “I wanted to make movies.”
His Father Didn’t Want Him To Be An Actor
Sam’s dad was a practical man who didn’t think much of his son’s dream of being a star.
“My father once said, ‘You haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell in Hollywood,'” Elliott told AARP. However, rather than deterring him, this motivated him to be successful. “I think he’d be proud that his kid became the actor I did,” he said.
He Was A Construction Worker
There was no era of waiting tables for Elliott as a young, would-be star. Instead, he worked in construction, which turned out to be the path to his big break. While doing some concrete work for a family friend who happened to be an assistant director in Hollywood, he was invited to a set where the friend was working. Soon, he was working in films and television shows.
He Served In The Military
Sam Elliott has acted in movies with military themes and played the role of military personnel in numerous films and television shows. His background has given him some perspective, as he was a member of the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Airlift Wing out of Channel Islands. In 2002, the National Guard Association honored Elliott with the Spirit of America award.
His First Acting Credit Was In A Big Film
His first credited role was in the 1969 film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross. His role was Card Play Number 2.
“A glorified extra,” Elliott told WNYC. “I had one line, it was off-camera, I was nothing more than a shadow on a wall.”
He Became A Television Star
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Elliot found himself acting in numerous TV series. Recurring spots on programs such as “The Felony Squad,” “Lancer” and “Mission Impossible” soon made him a familiar face to fans.
He Learned A Hard Lesson In His First Starring Role
Elliott landed a starring role in a ’70s film called “The Lifeguard,” but he wasn’t pleased with how the production company promoted it — and on the promotional tour, he talked openly about being displeased.
“We all took Lifeguard very seriously when we were making it,” he told Cinephiled. “But Paramount sold the film in very specific way. Their catchphrase was ‘Every girl’s summer dream’ and they used this artwork of me in my Speedo…” He never worked for Paramount again, he said.
He Found True Love On Set
In his next major role, Elliott found more than fame. His costar in the 1978 film “The Legacy” was Katharine Ross. Although he had worked on the set of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” in which she starred, the two did not meet until they started filming “The Legacy.”
The pair were soon in love and wed following her divorce from her fourth husband; their marriage was Elliott’s first. Ross and Elliott remain happily married.
He Has 1 Child
In 1984, Elliott and Ross welcomed their daughter into the world. Cleo Rose Elliott is the pair’s only child.
“My daughter’s the love of my life,” Elliott told AZ Central. Here they are together back in 2013.
Family Means Everything To Him
Although he is living his childhood dream to become a famous actor, nothing means more to Sam Elliott than the roles of husband and father.
“It completes me,” he told Parade Magazine. “I’ve been married one time and I have one daughter, who I love more than anyone in the world. And that’s where my world is.”
His Wife Helped Him Land An Important Role
While Elliott and Ross were on their honeymoon in Hawaii, his agent got in touch with him about a possible role. At first, Elliot declined, saying that he didn’t want to return early. However, Ross sensed this would be an important role for him and called the agent back herself to say she’d get him back in time to test for the role. He landed the part as compassionate biker Gar in the hit movie “Mask” alongside Cher.
The Coen Brothers Inadvertently Tricked Him
After “Mask,” many of the roles Elliott played were bikers or cowboys. He was even cast as a cowboy in “The Big Lebowski,” despite expecting otherwise.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is gonna be something outside the Western box for sure,’ ” he told NPR. Then he read the script. “Over the dialogue, there’s this tumbling tumbleweed blowing and talk about this Southwest accent and, ‘Sounding not unlike Sam Elliott.’ They had my name in the script,” he said.
He Has Accepted Being Typecast
As time passed, Elliott became thankful for those roles, no matter how much he might have been typecast.
“You just grow up and you realize, you know, life serves up what it serves up,” he told NPR. “I got over being anything but thankful for being in any kind of a box — Western or not. It’s been a rich life.”
He Has Been Picky About Roles
But that doesn’t mean he accepted every opportunity that came his way. Elliott has always been choosy about roles.
“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 told ComingSoon.net.
He Also Doesn’t Take Roles Based On Money
Elliott listens to his heart, not earnings, when choosing which roles to take.
“I’ve always basically made my own decisions,” he told The Guardian. “And I think I’ve done reasonably well. I have people that I get feedback from, get opinions from, keep me on the track, so to speak. But to me, it’s all about what’s on the page. It’s not about working for money.”
He’s Been Honored For Being A Cowboy
His roles in numerous Westerns resulted in more than just a reputation. It also helped Elliott and his wife earn recognition from real-life cowboys. In April 2018, they were honored by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum at the 2018 Western Heritage Awards.
“Each honoree demonstrates the Code of the West philosophy of doing hard work to create a sense of community where integrity and courage bring out the best in people,” the museum’s CEO said in a statement about the 2018 honorees.
He Turned Down A Role In ‘Road House’ Before Accepting Another
Elliott had a significant role in film “Road House,” another fan favorite in his filmography. Originally, he was offered the role of bad guy Wesley, but he turned it down. He was later offered the role of veteran bouncer Garrett and said yes. Although he played the much-older mentor of Patrick Swayze’s character, Dalton, they weren’t really that far apart, age-wise. Elliott was 44 and Swayze was 36.
He Has Defended Women In The MeToo Era
Following reports of abuse and harassment by Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry, Elliott was vocal with his support of women who suffered. He told Variety that he was disappointed in the way “women in this town have been put upon by the men in this business the way they have for so long.”
He’s Not A Fan Of Tech
One would be hard-pressed to say that Sam Elliott uses his cell phone for more than making or receiving calls.
“No one’s relating to each other,” he told Metro. “They have all the answers in their palm. You go into a restaurant and you see all these glowing faces. It’s like you’re sitting in a pumpkin patch.”
He Has Several Connections With Smokey Bear
When Sam Elliott encourages you to help prevent forest fires, chances are good you will listen. It seems that the National Forest Service thought so, too.
Not only does Elliott share a birthday with the world’s most famous fire-prevention bear, he also shared a voice after taking on the job of Smokey Bear in voiceover ads. And, growing up in the great outdoors with his father, he thinks it’s an important issue.
He’s In The Mustache Hall Of Fame
Sam Elliott is quite well known for his facial hair. In 2015, he was inducted into the Mustache Hall of Fame (along with Tom Selleck) for his “thick horseshoe mustache.” In fact, to some fans, he might be unrecognizable without it.
He’s Indifferent About His Iconic Voice
Of course, the actor is famous for his smooth, deep voice. How does he feel about it?
“Oh, I don’t know. I can take it or leave it at this point,” he told Metro. “It isn’t gonna get any better. I’ve done well by it, I guess.”
He’s A Centrist
The actor is not especially vocal when it comes to politics. However, that doesn’t mean he has no opinion.
“I don’t understand why we can’t look at the bigger picture and work for the greater good,” Elliott told Metro. “Why does one side have to be wrong? Why does the other side have nothing to say of value? Center of the road, to me, is where we all need to get back to.”
He’s Got a Sensitive Side
Since Sam Elliott so often portrays a rugged tough guy, it might be difficult to picture him as anything else. However, the actor admits to being a bit of a softy.
“I don’t often break down and boohoo,” he told AARP, “but I’ll shed a tear at the drop of a hat. Something will just move me, and my eyes will go misty.”
Hard Work Keeps Him in Shape
Women have drooled over the actor’s appearance for decades. In fact, a guide to nudity in film called “The Bare Facts” gave him high praise for his unclothed posterior in the film “The Legacy.” Elliott doesn’t lift weights or hit the treadmill to stay in shape. Rather, he chalks up his fitness to manual labor, as he and his wife take care of much of the landscaping on their three acres in Malibu themselves.
He Thinks Westerns Have A Future In Hollywood
Are Westerns a thing of the past? Elliott doesn’t believe so.
“I’ve always taken great offense to anybody in Hollywood … tell me that there’s no market for American western,” he told ComingSoon.net. “If we start making good westerns, people are going to go see them. Unfortunately it’s all about the dollars these days, it’s not about making good movies, it’s (about) making movies that are making good money.”
He’s Working As Hard As Ever
At age 74, Sam Elliott shows no signs of slowing. His series “The Ranch” quickly became one of Netflix’s top shows. The critically-acclaimed indie film “The Hero” was written just for him (his wife also has a role, playing Elliott’s character’s ex-wife).
He has a part in the forthcoming remake of “A Star Is Born,” as well in “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot.” Who knows where else the icon will turn up?