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Sam Elliott’s Family Tragedy Motivated Him to Change His Life: ‘It Wasn't Easy Period'

Esther NJeri
Nov 18, 2021
02:00 A.M.
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Sam Elliott refers to himself as an honest actor. The world also sees him as the character behind some of the most iconic movies, such as "The Big Lebowski" and "Tombstone."

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Sam Elliott is a California native. Born in Sacramento in 1944, he grew up watching movies and exploring the outdoors. His interest was in becoming an actor and emulating those he was so fond of in the films he would spend hours watching.

At nine years of age, Elliot made up his mind. He wanted to be an actor, and nothing would stand in the way of that. Even advice from his skeptical father to choose a different path fell on deaf ears.

Left: American actor Sam Elliott. Right: American actors Tom Selleck (left) and Sam Elliott as Orrin and Tell Sackett in 'The Sacketts', directed by Robert Totten, 1979. | Source: Getty Images

Left: American actor Sam Elliott. Right: American actors Tom Selleck (left) and Sam Elliott as Orrin and Tell Sackett in 'The Sacketts', directed by Robert Totten, 1979. | Source: Getty Images

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EARLY LIFE

His father, Henry Nelson Elliott, worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and thought that acting was not the best career choice. His son's mind, however, was set on making it in Hollywood and making it big.

Unfortunately, Henry did not live long enough to see his son become one of the most adored gun-slinging cowboys people know him for today. He passed on before Elliott hit the 18-year mark from a sudden heart attack.

Elliott says it wasn't an easy period, but his father's demise taught him to be a better person and motivated him to change his life for the better.

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Sam Elliott attends the "Tennis and Crumpet Tournament" on May 21, 1977 at Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images

Sam Elliott attends the "Tennis and Crumpet Tournament" on May 21, 1977 at Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images

The father and son never did get a chance to resolve their differences. Speaking in an interview, later on, Elliott remembered his late father, saying:

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"He died thinking, 'Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path.' And I think on some levels that were either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career."

In an interview with "the Off-Camera Show," Elliott added his father died thinking he was an idiot for choosing a career in acting.

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For the longest time, albeit unknowingly, Elliott would make himself a success to prove to his father that he had chosen the right path.

With his father's words forever ringing at the back of his mind, he put his mind and heart into his roles. He realized to become the acclaimed actor he always dreamed of being, he had to work hard and be relentless in his acting.

But even with his disapproval, Henry did not shy away from giving his son some of life's most valuable lessons. These lessons included asking him always to do more than is expected of him, regardless of the situation.

Sam Elliott and wife Katharine Ross attend the premiere of "The China Syndrome" on March 6, 1979 at Cinerama Dome Theater in Universal, California | Photo: Getty Images

Sam Elliott and wife Katharine Ross attend the premiere of "The China Syndrome" on March 6, 1979 at Cinerama Dome Theater in Universal, California | Photo: Getty Images

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Despite the back and forth concerning his career choice, Elliott's father taught him to be a man. Growing up, Elliott spent a lot of time with his father and his friends, tagging him along wherever he went.

They would go fishing often and from all the time spent together, he learned to be a hardworking man and a gentleman.

Despite his father's distaste for the film industry, Elliott still had a lot of support from his mother. He says she encouraged and mentored him until the day she took her last breath.

Katharine Ross and actor Sam Elliott attend the Second Annual Benefit Concert for the Malibu Emergency Room on March 18, 1984 at the Firestone Fieldhouse, Pepperdine University in Malibu, California | Photo: Getty Images

Katharine Ross and actor Sam Elliott attend the Second Annual Benefit Concert for the Malibu Emergency Room on March 18, 1984 at the Firestone Fieldhouse, Pepperdine University in Malibu, California | Photo: Getty Images

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CAREER IN FILM

Known today as the "cowboy," Elliott's film career did not come easy. He worked hard to get to where he is today, debuting his on-screen career in the 1969 movies "Butch Cassidy" and " The Sundance Kid."

The '70s saw him find constant work, appearing in roles for shows like "Gunsmoke." He later received recognition far and wide for his role in the 1989 film "Road House."

However, his role in "The Big Lebowski" saw him garner an almost-cultish fandom, thrusting him into unexpected fame. His other fan-favorites include "Tombstone" and "The Quick and the Dead."

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Sam Elliott attends a 50th anniversary screening of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' during the 2019 Plaza Classic Film Festival at The Plaza Theatre on August 02, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. | Source: Getty Images

Sam Elliott attends a 50th anniversary screening of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' during the 2019 Plaza Classic Film Festival at The Plaza Theatre on August 02, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. | Source: Getty Images

In 2018, the mustached actor won an Academy Award nomination for his role in "A Star is Born." He continues to take on parts that leave his fans glued to their screens.

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CHOOSING A PATH LESS TRAVELED

The '70s had become a decade of success for the "Hawaii Five-O" star, and he was featured in numerous films, including "Mission: Impossible." He also showcased his motorcycle-jumping stunts on the TV biopic, playing the daredevil Evel Knievel.

And even though he had the good looks that would have placed him in the heartthrob category per the Hollywood standards, Elliott was different.

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He steered clear of the conventional Hollywood career that would have come easy to him based on his looks and physical attributes. Instead, he preferred earning roles based on his acting prowess and skills.

He began donning his now-signature long hair, and handlebar mustache, which he comically declares takes months to grow back if he is ever required to shave it off for a role. In an interview with Playgirl Magazine in 1976, Elliott stated:

"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."

Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott attend the 16th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 30, 1981 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott attend the 16th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 30, 1981 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

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ELLIOTT'S LIFE AWAY FROM THE SCREENS

Away from the screens, Elliott is a husband and a father. He first met his wife, Actress Katharine Ross, on the set of the 1969 "Sundance Kid," where he appeared alongside Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

His role was a little less prominent, and he never got to speak to his future wife, the leading lady in the film, who'd been cast as Redford's lover.

Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross arrive at the premiere of "The Good Dinosaur" on November 17, 2015 in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross arrive at the premiere of "The Good Dinosaur" on November 17, 2015 in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

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As destiny would have it, the duo met a decade later, on the set of the 1978 film "Legacy," and soon after, they fell in love. Elliott quipped of the movie:

"Not a great film, but a legacy nonetheless for Katharine and me."

Ross, an American television, stage, and film actress, has gained success in the industry just like her husband of many years. She has appeared in several hit films such as "Mr. Buddwing" and "The Singing Nun," among many others.

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She has also bagged several accolades, including two Golden Globes, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award. Elliott married Ross in 1984, and together, they have one daughter.

Their daughter, Cleo Rose Elliott, followed in her famous parents' footsteps. Even though she did not get into film, she has carved a career in the entertainment industry as a musician, singer, and model.

The couple spends most of their time in Malibu, California, where they've lived since they married in 1978, while their daughter lives nearby.

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