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The Fascinating Life Story of Sam Elliott

By: | Published: Jan 13, 2022

Sam Elliott is unlike any other actor in Hollywood. His lanky physique, rich and authoritative voice, dashingly rugged appearance, and of course, his famed mustache make him instantly recognizable. You’ve probably heard his voice or seen him on TV and in movies before.

He may not be as well-known as actors like Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford, but his on-screen appeal has helped him land a steady stream of lucrative roles for decades. However, there is more to Sam Elliott than his dashing good looks and distinct voice. His life away from the world of entertainment is equally impressive. Read on to learn more about one of Hollywood’s most fascinating stars.

Defying His Father's Wishes

Samuel Pack Elliott was born on August 9th, 1944 in northern California. His father Henry worked as an animal control specialist for the Department of the Interior, while his mother Glynn was a high school teacher and fitness instructor.

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Sam had always dreamed of becoming an actor, but Henry had something else in mind for his son. He insisted on a more traditional career path that involved getting a college degree. This conflict between father and son would forever put a strain on their relationship. Nevertheless, Sam never resented his father for persuading him to choose a more “realistic” career and credits him for helping him develop a strong work ethic.

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His Father’s Death

Sam was just 18 years old and nowhere near Hollywood stardom when his father passed away due to a sudden heart attack. There was no hope for closure between father and son, who had been estranged for quite some time.

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Though his father’s death came as a shock, Sam did not allow it to affect his career. Nevertheless, this tragic incident forced him to reassess his priorities. Not long after his father’s demise, Sam decided to drop out of college.

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A New Beginning

It’s amazing how a kind remark or word of encouragement can have such a positive impact on a person. When Sam was in college in Vancouver, Washington, he was cast in a local production of Guys and Dolls. A local newspaper praised his performance, commenting that he should pursue a career as a professional actor.

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Sam took this advice to heart and moved to Hollywood a few years later. His accomplishments thus far serve as a valuable lesson for many of us. A person’s life can be transformed by the right words said at the right moment.

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Making Ends Meet

It isn’t uncommon to see aspiring actors working as waiters while waiting for their big break in Hollywood. Sam’s rugged upbringing, however, meant that he was more open to other career opportunities. To make ends meet, he worked construction jobs in California.

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Sam’s employment history would influence many of the acting roles he would become known for over the years. More often than not, Sam would end up playing strong and highly masculine characters who enjoyed spending much of their time outdoors.

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A True Soldier

Sam’s towering, intimidating physique and commanding presence have helped him land many roles as a military man. Sam always seemed like the perfect choice to play the role of a soldier when he was younger and as an army officer as he got older.

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Interestingly, Sam did have a brief stint with the California Air National Guard while he was in college and working construction jobs. In fact, Sam believes that his time in the military was critical in helping him develop the necessary skills and discipline for a successful acting career.

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His Early Roles

Sam did not become a household name overnight. He began his career in the entertainment industry with an uncredited role in the 1967 Western film The Way West. He also appeared in a few episodes of the television show Felony Squad.

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Sam also had other minor movie and TV roles throughout the 1960s. Thanks to these early roles, Sam was able to hone his acting skills and get the attention of the right people who would help him take his Hollywood career to new heights.

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His First Notable Role

It wasn’t long before Sam landed his first role in a critically-acclaimed movie, though it was still a minor one. The movie was the 1969 Western movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Sam played Card Player #2.

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Interestingly, Sam would end up marrying Katharine Ross, who played one of the major characters in the movie. However, the two did not appear in any scenes together, and they only got to know each other about a decade after the movie was released.

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Minor Roles

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sam’s future in Hollywood was looking bright. He had a steady stream of acting jobs throughout the decade, though he had to wait a bit longer before landing his breakout role.

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During this time, he appeared on several TV shows, including episodes of The F.B.I., Land of the Giants, and Judd, For the Defense, as well as three episodes of Felony Squad and Lancer. He also played Richie Robinson in the movie The Games, directed by Michael Winner.

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A Promising TV Career

While Sam never stopped auditioning for roles in movies, most of his roles during this period were in TV shows. His roles began to get juicier as time wore on, beginning with a 13-episode appearance as Dr. Douglas Robert (Lang) in Mission: Impossible.

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In 1974, Sam got his first big break when he played the title role in the biographical TV movie Evel Knievel. From 1976 to 1977, he played the lead character in the seven-part miniseries Once an Eagle, an adaptation of the bestselling novel of the same name by American author Anton Myrer.

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A Blossoming Romance

In 1978, Sam and Katharine Ross co-starred in the horror movie The Legacy. Though they had previously appeared in the same movie nearly a decade earlier, Sam only had a cameo appearance and the two never shared any scenes.

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As it turns out, The Legacy changed Sam’s life in more ways than one. Aside from it being his first starring role in a movie, it also marked the beginning of a relationship with the woman he would eventually marry.

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A Shy Person

It would later be revealed that Sam had been smitten by Katharine Ross ever since the filming of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, but he was afraid of making the first move. This came as a surprise to many – who would have thought that a rugged and handsome guy like Sam would be so afraid of making a move on a woman?

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Sam would later confess about his initial encounter with Katharine, saying that he didn’t dare to speak to her at the time. He explained that she was the leading lady, and he was merely a “glorified extra” in one scene.

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The Legacy

The Legacy was a game-changer for Sam. Aside from it being his first major role in a movie, it was also the first time he had exposed his buttocks on screen. The Bare Facts, a printed guide to nudity in movies, awarded him three out of three stars for his performance.

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Many female actors will “bare it all” to get their foot in the door or to get their major career break. It appears that this unwritten rule has an exception. How did Katharine react to all this? We can only guess.

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Falling For Sam

Many people have been wondering what was it about Sam that made Katharine fall in love with him. Was it his deep voice? His rugged appearance? His personality? Or maybe his mustache? Whenever Katharine gets asked about it, all she would say is “probably all that and more.”

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Pinpointing the things that can make one person fall in love with another is no easy task. There are many possible reasons why we can be attracted to another person. In Katharine’s case, “all that and more” seems to have done the trick.

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Relationship in the Spotlight

Like many high-profile romances, Sam and Katharine’s relationship hit some speed bumps almost immediately. At the time, Katharine was still officially married to Gaetano Lisi, a movie set technician. Though the marriage was headed towards divorce, the fact that Katharine had become involved with Sam while she was still married was a bit of a scandal at the time.

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After Katharine’s divorce was finalized in 1979, she pursued her relationship with Elliott more openly. This was nothing new for her, as she had already been divorced four times. Sam, meanwhile, had never been married.

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Unwanted Attention

Both Sam and Katharine’s careers were soaring when their relationship was announced. The couple attracted plenty of unwanted attention from the media, who seemed more interested in their personal lives than their work. In October of 1979, the duo – dubbed “Hollywood’s Sexiest Couple” – landed on the cover of Playgirl.

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All the attention they received from the public destroyed the couple’s hopes of having a more discreet love life. Sam, who wanted to be known more for his work than anything else, had become a sex symbol practically overnight.

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A Missed Opportunity

In 1982, Sam was given the role of the lead character in the TV movie The Ambush Murders, a based-on-a-true-story TV movie about a black activist who is falsely convicted for the murder of two white police officers, as well as the lawyer who tries to get him acquitted.

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The case captivated the nation in the 1970s, and many people were eager to see the events dramatized on TV. Unfortunately, Sam fell ill during production and was replaced by James Brolin. While it’s not unusual for an actor to be replaced due to an illness, we can’t help but wonder how the movie would have turned out with the original lead.

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The Sound of Wedding Bells

Sam and Katharine had been dating for almost six years when they finally married in May of 1984. Unlike Katharine who had already been married four times by that point, Sam was completely inexperienced in marriage.

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While the pair may sometimes seem like a mismatch, their marriage would go on to become one of Hollywood’s longest-lasting and happiest. Their daughter, Cleo Rose Elliott, was born on September 17th, 1984, just four months after the wedding. The couple was well on their way to having their happily-ever-after moment.

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His Big Break

Sam’s big break came in 1985 when he was cast alongside the award-winning singer and actress Cher in the movie, Mask. He played the role of Gar, a tough but kind-hearted biker who is romantically involved with Cher and is helping her raise her physically challenged son.

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Sam nearly missed out on the chance to play this role. He was still on his honeymoon when his agent informed him about this opportunity. Thinking that he wouldn’t make it back to California to do a screen test, Sam declined the offer.

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Brilliant Wife

Katharine – the wise one in the marriage – soon learned about the offer, and was alarmed when she learned that her new husband declined the role. She promptly called his agent and informed him that Sam would be going to the screen test.

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As it turns out, Katharine’s decision to intervene would prove crucial to her husband’s success in Hollywood. Despite starring alongside Cher who was at the height of her fame at the time Sam managed to steal several scenes and was widely praised for his performance.

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Sam's Unique Voice

It should come as no surprise that Sam’s distinct baritone voice has also helped him land numerous voiceover and narration jobs over the years. Ashton Kutcher, his co-star in The Ranch, once said that Sam ought to narrate everything.

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However, it’s quite clear from watching his earlier movies and TV shows that Sam’s voice wasn’t as deep as it is now. When asked about it, Sam claimed that the deepness of his voice just came with age it became deeper as he got older.

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The Big Lebowski

The narrator in the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski has been described in the script as the voiceover that sounds “not unlike Sam Elliott.” The on-screen role, meanwhile, was described as being like a drugstore cowboy that looks “not unlike Sam Elliott.”

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The Coen brothers, who wrote and directed the movie, are among the most ardent moviegoers, hence why they described Sam’s character in such a precise way. Sam, meanwhile, has demonstrated that he can make a minor character memorable, and this was certainly the case with his role as The Stranger in the Coen brothers’ movie.

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Sam's Incredible Work Ethic

Not that many Hollywood actors can match Sam’s interesting mix of outdoor toughness and strong work ethic. These characteristics don’t appear out of thin air. Sam’s childhood gives us an idea of how he turned out to be the way he is.

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According to Sam, he grew up spending time with his dad and his dad’s friends who he described as “all men’s men and outdoorsmen.” As it turns out, it was both nature and nurture that developed him into the type of person that he is.

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Another Major Role

Sam’s performance in The Big Lebowski was one of the biggest highlights of his career. His co-star in the movie, Jeff Bridges, would later be cast as the US president in The Contender. Rod Lurie, the movie’s writer and director, loved Sam and Bridges’ on-screen chemistry in The Big Lebowski and wanted to recreate it in his movie, so he cast Sam as the president’s Chief of Staff.

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Lurie’s decision to cast Sam in the movie was controversial due to Sam’s association with Westerns. Sam, meanwhile, saw this as an opportunity to stretch his acting muscles. Fortunately, Sam nailed the role and received nothing but praise from everyone.

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The Life of a Cowboy

Despite landing all kinds of roles throughout his decades-long acting career, Sam would always be closely associated with Westerns. His tough demeanor, towering height, stunning good looks, and upbringing have all contributed to his manly persona.

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Sam has starred in numerous Westerns over the years. Some of his more notable movies include The Quick and the Dead (1987), Tombstone (1993), The Desperate Trail (1994), The Hi-Lo Country (1998), and You Know My Name (1999). In 2007, Sam was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers.

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The Key to Longevity

Being a picky eater may ensure a long and healthy life. The same could be said about acting being picky about the roles you accept in Hollywood can ensure a long-lasting career. It seems like this has always been Sam’s game plan to stay popular and relevant in Hollywood.

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Sam is known to advise other actors and actresses against saying “yes” to every opportunity that comes their way, as this could result in burnout, which could then cost them their fans. According to Sam, actors and actresses need to be careful about the kind of work that they do.

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Family Troubles

Unfortunately, no amount of success can spare anyone from having to deal with family issues. In 2011, Sam’s wife Katharine filed a restraining order against their 26-year-old daughter Cleo after receiving death threats from her. Cleo was then ordered by the court to stay at least 100 yards away from Katharine.

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While many other people around the world deal with similar crises, being famous meant that the Elliott family’s issues received significant media attention and faced more public scrutiny than others.

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Reconciliation

Fortunately, the Elliott family drama was short-lived, and all family members chose not to appear in court for the hearing to determine the restraining order’s extension date. The case was automatically thrown out as a result, and Katherine and Cleo have since reconciled.

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Since then, the family appears to have made great progress in strengthening their relationship. The Elliotts have also made numerous red carpet appearances together. Cleo now lives in Malibu and works as a model and professional musician.

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A Wonderful Marriage

Many people were skeptical when Sam and Katharine’s relationship was first made public. Like other Hollywood relationships, theirs was not expected to last. Before marrying Sam, Katharine had been married four times, and she was still legally married to her fourth husband when she began dating Sam.

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However, Sam and Katharine have managed to prove the doubters wrong. While Sam admits that their relationship has had its fair share of issues, he and Katharine would always work together to resolve them.

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Family History

Sam’s acting career has been inextricably linked with the Western genre, largely due to his physical attributes and his tough demeanor. However, there is more to it, particularly the substantial and moving family history behind his passion for the Old West.

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Sam once claimed in an interview that he had “a history in Texas” and that his family had a relative who was involved in the Battle of the Alamo. This infamous event was a pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution, which took place from October 2nd, 1835 to April 21st, 1836.

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Road House

The 1989 action movie Road House may not have been critically acclaimed, but it certainly was a guilty pleasure for millions of people. It also helped introduce Sam to a new generation of fans. Sam played Wade Garrett, the mentor of Patrick Swayze’s character James Dalton.

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Sam was originally cast to play the main antagonist Brad Wesley, but he soon realized that he wasn’t a good fit for the role. When Sam was offered to play Wade Garrett instead, he said yes immediately. 

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Can He Do Everything?

Sam’s success as an actor is undeniable. Few actors from his generation could ever come close. However, there’s more to his Hollywood career than just acting. He has also tried his hand in production, writing, and even singing.

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In 2006, Sam did a cover of the song “I Won’t Back Down” for the animated movie Barnyard. He was also the voice of Ben in this movie. Then he produced and starred in the Netflix comedy/drama series The Ranch, which ran for 80 episodes from 2016 to 2020.

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He's Got Everything

Happiness goes hand-in-hand with gratitude, and Sam demonstrates this quite well. According to Sam, the two things that he wanted in his life were to have a movie career and to get married and start a family. Sam describes having both as an “embarrassment of riches.”

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Sam built a successful career in the highly-competitive Hollywood environment, but he never let this get in the way of achieving true, meaningful happiness. Thanks to the love and support he receives from his amazing wife, his career flourished. With a loving family by his side, his “embarrassment of riches” is no exaggeration.

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His Iconic Mustache

One of Sam’s most distinct features is his mustache. Though he’s had to get rid of it for some of his movies in the 1960s and 1970s, he has rarely been seen without it since then. In 2015, Sam became one of the first inductees into the International Mustache Hall of Fame.

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One can only imagine what it’s like to be judged based on your appearance. Poor Sam. Fortunately, Sam is a good sport with a good personality and isn’t bothered by what other people think of him.

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Sam’s Net Worth

While money isn’t everything, it’s nearly impossible to talk about Hollywood celebrities without bringing up their net worth. According to several reports, Sam’s net worth is somewhere around $16 million. While this may only be an estimate, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched considering how hard Sam has worked for his money.

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Although acting has been his main source of income, a considerable percentage of his income has come from his voiceover and narration gigs. He also owns properties in many parts of the US.

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Sam's Secret Technique

Sam’s Hollywood career began to flourish at a time when studios controlled nearly all aspects of production, including managing all actors. Sam started acting around the same time as his longtime friend and fellow Western icon Tom Selleck. Both men would talk to the people at the Fox Studios law offices to get a first look at new and interesting scripts.

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If anything catches his attention, Sam would get in touch with casting agents to see if he could get the part. This was something that Sam was never embarrassed about. According to him, you had to do whatever it takes to succeed in this highly-competitive industry.

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Famous Voice Role

Sam’s deep and powerful baritone voice has undoubtedly been an important part of his success in Hollywood. It has earned him one of his most interesting roles to date, one that he has been doing since 2008: the voice of Smokey Bear. Yes, that’s right – the bear that tells people that “only you can prevent forest fires” is voiced by Sam Elliott.

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Sam seemed like a natural choice for this role as he had grown up with a father who had been employed by the Fish & Wildlife Service. His distinct voice was certainly a factor, too.

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Sam's Preference for Westerns

Sam has long been associated with Westerns due to several factors, mainly his dominating presence, his distinct baritone voice, and of course, his mustache. However, Sam thinks there is another factor that has drawn him to the Western genre of movies.

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In an interview, Sam stated that he thinks it could have something to do with integrity and a man’s word of honor, as well as things like values, morality, and all sorts of things that people tend to look down on.

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Sam's Reason

Sam has always been open about the fact that his father had been adamantly opposed to his decision to become an actor. Yet, Sam has also said that his father was the reason why he pursued acting as a career.

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Sam once remarked in an interview that the worst part for him is doubting whether his dad is proud of him. He added that while his father approved of his other hobbies like fishing, he was never pleased with his son’s career choice.

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Making Better Art

While Sam is highly selective in terms of the roles that he accepts, his control over his work goes deeper than that. He would also occasionally assist in writing screenplays and is never the type to back down when he disagrees with a director’s idea.

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Sam has previously opened up about his willingness to fight the powers that be when necessary. He was once quoted as saying that he’d “rather be a pain in the ass” to “make better art.”

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Pleasant Memories

Whenever Sam gets asked about his favorite movie project, he would always say that he prefers to talk more about the cast and crew that he’s worked with rather than a specific movie, saying that what he remembers more are the people rather than the movies themselves.

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Judging by his responses in previous interviews, Sam appears to have enjoyed working on The Hero the most. According to Sam, the entire cast and crew of the movie were a joy to work with and the movie was “a labor of love.” This comes as no surprise, as it seems like the role, and perhaps even the entire movie, was written specifically for him.

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The Perfect Fit

Sam was the perfect fit to play Lee Hayden in the 2017 comedy-drama The Hero. Brett Hatley, the movie’s writer and director, enjoyed working with Sam in I’ll See You in My Dreams so much that he decided to create another movie specifically for him.

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It’s not unusual for a movie to be made with a specific actor in mind. Sam, who isn’t your typical A-list Hollywood actor, felt “totally flattered” when he learned about this new project. The Hero turned out to be a success, earning $4.1 million at the box office against a budget of $1.2 million.

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Sam the Perfectionist

Given his many years of experience in the entertainment industry, you’d think that Sam would have a high opinion of his acting skills. However, this is not the case. Sam frequently criticizes his performances and would sometimes express his regret over not being able to go back in time to redo his work.

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Sam has also expressed his regret about not having received any formal acting training when he was younger, which he thinks would have made him a more “intriguing” actor. Despite all that he has accomplished, the fact that he would say something like this tells us a lot about his character.

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What Has Sam Been Up To?

Sam continues to keep himself busy despite his age. In 2016, he began appearing in the Netflix series The Ranch alongside Ashton Kutcher. In 2017, he starred in The Hero alongside his wife. In 2018, he co-starred in A Star is Born in which he played Bobby Maine, the half-brother of Bradley Cooper’s character.

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His wife Katharine, who was a huge celebrity in the 1960s and 1970s, has chosen to take on fewer roles in her later years. However, she is still far from retirement. Some of her more recent projects include Slip, Tumble & Slide (2015) and Attachments (2019).

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Katharine’s Career

Sam and Katharine have been married since 1984. When they first started dating, she was already a megastar with leading roles in movies like The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid while he was a less prominent actor. Since then, Sam’s career has soared while Katharine has opted to mostly stay away from the limelight.

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According to Sam, Katharine simply isn’t as hungry as she once was, and that she doesn’t “chase it” anymore. However, Sam believes that his wife certainly deserves bigger and better things in life. How sweet!

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Living In The Present

While Sam isn’t the type of person who would obsess about the future, he doesn’t think too much about the past either. He isn’t worried about what future generations of movie fans will think of him. Instead, he prefers living in the present and paying more attention to the tasks at hand.

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Despite the pressures that come with being a Hollywood actor, Sam has managed to maintain a positive outlook throughout his career. He has been known to say that while acting is hard work, it’s a creative and artistic process and that if actors can’t enjoy that, then they’re doing it wrong.

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