Renowned for his rich baritone voice, thick mustache and “man’s man” persona, Sam Elliott has been a Hollywood fixture since the mid-1970s. And thanks to recent appearances in Netflix series The Ranch and Grace and Frankie, and a leading role in The Hero, he remains as popular as ever. Here are 20 facts that help explain why he’s had such an enduring career.
20. He served in the military
Elliott has portrayed various military men throughout his career – and he has plenty of experience to draw upon. Before making it as an actor, the star served in the California Army National Guard. Elliott credits his spell as a reservist for improving both his leadership skills and discipline.
19. He once worked in construction
Elliott also knows what it’s like to put in a regular hard day’s graft. While chasing his Hollywood dreams, the actor worked in the construction industry to make ends meet. And he enjoyed it, too. “I really had some of the greatest times of my life doing that,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was on my own and I was really working for a living.”
18. He was once the Calgary Stampede’s grand marshal
In 1998 Elliott was given the honor of riding in front of some 300,000 spectators as the grand marshal of the Calgary Stampede. The Canadian rodeo celebration takes place over ten days in Calgary, Alberta, each July. Organizers describe it as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”
17. He met his future wife filming a classic Western
Elliott first met his future wife Katharine Ross in 1969 when they both appeared in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ross was the film’s leading lady, while Elliott’s role was a more blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair. However, the two didn’t cross paths again until nine years later when they each enjoyed more significant screen time in The Legacy. In 1984 they walked down the aisle together.
16. But he was initially too shy to talk to her
One of the reasons why the pair took so long to get together was Elliott’s surprise shyness. The actor once admitted he felt Ross was out of his league. “I didn’t dare try to talk to her then,” he confessed. “She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene.”
15. His wife helped him to land one of his most famous roles
Ross later helped her husband to land one of his most celebrated roles. Elliott initially turned down the chance to audition for the part of the biker boyfriend of Cher’s character in the movie Mask as he was on his Hawaiian honeymoon at the time. However, after learning about the part, Ross insisted he should return home and take the screen test. And the rest is history.
14. He almost missed out on his role in Road House
And Mask wasn’t the only major film he very nearly missed out on. The actor initially turned down the chance to star in the Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House when he was offered the part of Brad Wesley, the movie’s main villain. But Elliott agreed to sign up for the 1980s action movie when he was offered the role of veteran doorman Wade Garrett instead.
13. He’s voiced several beloved children’s characters
Elliott has put his famously deep tones to several cherished children’s characters over the years. He’s provided the voice to Barnyard’s Ben the Cow, Marmaduke’s Buster and The Good Dinosaur’s Butch to name just a few. Since 2008 he’s also voiced Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service’s mascot with whom he shares a birthday.
12. He’s also used his voice to advertise various products
Several companies, Coors beer and Ram Trucks among them, have hired Elliott to voice their TV commercials. The actor’s booming tones could also be heard at Super Bowl XLV: Elliott narrated the team introductions in the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
11. He’s been inducted into the International Mustache Hall of Fame
Elliott has picked up two nominations at both the Golden Globes and Emmys and won a Critics’ Choice TV Award during his glittering career. But his acting talents aren’t the only thing he’s been recognized for. In 2015 the star was inducted into the Film and Television category of the International Mustache Hall of Fame.
10. He also received another unlikely induction
And that’s not the only time he was given the kind of honor you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a Hollywood actor. In 2007 he received an induction into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for his contribution to the Western genre. Based in Oklahoma City, the museum boasts nearly 30,000 American Indian and Western curios.
9. He used his own rifle in a Hollywood movie
Elliott spent much of his childhood camping and hunting with his father, who was employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And he continued to enjoy spending time in the great outdoors as an adult. In fact, he even insisted on using his very own Winchester 1894 rifle when playing a former cigarette-advertising cowboy diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005’s Thank You for Smoking.
8. His role in The Big Lebowski was written specially for him
It’s fair to say that the Coen brothers had Elliott specifically in mind when they wrote the part of The Big Lebowski’s narrator. In their original script, the description of the character was “like a drugstore cowboy, looking not unlike Sam Elliott.” Despite his initial fears of being typecast, Elliott agreed to take on the role, much to the Coens’ delight.
7. He’s a fan of swearing
And Elliott reportedly spent much of his time on The Big Lebowski set cursing. According to a book written about the Coen brothers’ cult classic, the actor swore more than any other cast member during its filming. Ironically, his character in the movie chides Jeff Daniels’ The Dude for his repeated use of “cusswords.”
6. He’s never done a job for money
In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, Elliott claimed that he’d never taken a job solely for financial reasons. He said, “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.”
5. He had a relative in the Alamo
Elliott has built a career playing various ranchers and cowboys on notable films including Gone to Texas, Tombstone and Conagher. And it turns out that he actually has a bit of the old Wild West in his blood. “I’ve got history in Texas,” the actor once said while revealing that a distant relative served in the Alamo.
4. His father didn’t get to see his success
Elliott’s father Henry disapproved of his son’s acting ambitions, but sadly Elliott wasn’t able to prove he’d made the right career choice. Henry suffered a fatal heart attack when his son was just 18. Elliott once said, “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path.’ And I think on some level that made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”
3. He’s an all-round decent guy
Elliott appears to be one of Hollywood’s good guys, according to numerous directors who have worked with him over the years. Paul Weitz hailed him as “one of the most gentlemanly, kind people I’ve come across.” Brett Haley described the star as being “extremely sensitive and insightful, kind and generous and very smart.” Peter Sohn went even further, saying that Elliott was “jaw-droppingly perfect” and “heartwarmingly sincere.”
2. He openly mocked one of his film’s marketing approach
Elliott enjoyed his first major starring role in 1976’s Lifeguard. But he wasn’t particularly happy with the way the film was promoted. During its press tour, Elliott openly criticized how the drama was instead depicted as a fluffy teen movie. Elliott told NPR, “I think there’s, like, three qualities that kind of sum me up, particularly in those days: honest, opinionated and not very smart.”
1. He dreams of starring in a musical
Elliott still has one major ambition he’s yet to achieve. “I’d love to do a musical,” he told The New York Times in 2015, before claiming, “I could pick it up real quick.” The actor was actually given the chance to showcase his singing ability in the Broadway hit Annie Get Your Gun alongside Reba McEntire. However, he passed on the opportunity, a decision Elliott admits he now bitterly regrets.