The Man Behind the Voice: Sam Elliott and His Life in Hollywood

Do you recognize this man? You probably do because he was the face on your screens when you watched Old Western movies. Sam Elliott won many hearts as he was unlike other actors of his time. Everything about him, including his tall stature, his rich and deep voice, and his rugged looks, make him stand out among many others. And who can miss his famous mustache?

Sam Elliott’s college yearbook photo at Clark College. / Sam Elliott in Mask with his infamous mustache. / Sam Elliott at Beau in The Ranch.
Source: Clark College Galapagen (Yearbook) 1965. / Shutterstock / Ranch Hand Productions, IMDB

Even if you don’t necessarily recognize (or remember) him, you have definitely heard his voice as he has done tons of famous voice work. Remember that velvety voice from the Dodge commercials? That’s Sam Elliott. He never reached superstardom like his fellow Western actors like Clint Eastwood, but that doesn’t reflect on his contribution to Westerns and the film industry in general. This man has been in one juicy role after the other for 50 years! That’s more than many can say.

This is a spotlight on Sam Elliott, the lesser-known but respected actor.

Against Dad’s Wishes

Sam Elliott was born on August 9th, 1944, in northern California to a father who was a government employee and a mother who was a high school teacher and fitness instructor. At the time, his father worked in the wilderness mostly as an animal control specialist. From a young age, Sam already set his sights on becoming an actor. He thought it was his calling.

Sam Elliotts senior yearbook photo from 1962.
Source: 1962 David Douglas High School Yearbook p.40 /

But his father didn’t share the same vision and thought it was too unrealistic. Instead, he insisted that Sam embarks on a more traditional career path, which included getting a college degree. This ended up becoming a lifelong father-son conflict, one that would ultimately damage their relationship. And one that would never get a chance to be resolved…

A Tragic Ending

Sam might not have gotten along with his father, but he still credited his dad with instilling in him a work ethic and never blamed him for warning him against a Hollywood career. Sam wasn’t even 18 years old and far from stardom when his father had a sudden heart attack. Sadly, the young aspiring actor never got the closure he needed.

Sam Elliott’s college yearbook photo at Clark College.
Source: Clark College Galapagen (Yearbook) 1965

His father would never be able to witness the success Sam would eventually earn in his Hollywood career – one, his father, not only rejected but didn’t believe would ever happen. So you can only imagine how this left Sam. While he had to carry this burden with him ever since, it seems as though he didn’t allow it to affect his career.

A Promising Start

His father’s death forced Sam to reevaluate his priorities. Shortly after his passing, Sam chose to drop out of college. Elliott has later spoken about his father’s death, saying that “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path.’ And I think on some level that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”

Sam Elliott and Parker Stevenson in Lifeguard in 1976.
Photo by Paramount / Kobal /

Sam Elliot got an early gig in a local production of Guys and Dolls. Kind words and encouragement can go a long way, and Sam needed some at that point. He was still in college in Vancouver at the time. The city’s local newspaper singled out Elliott’s performance in a review, commenting on how he should consider becoming a professional actor.

Making a Living as an Actor

Sam took those positive words as a sign that he needed to make his way to Hollywood. And a few years later, that’s exactly what he did. It goes to show that the right words at the right time can have a life-changing and long-lasting effect on someone. But then again, the opposite is also true. The stereotype of a struggling actor working as a waiter was the life Sam had to live.

Sam Elliott
Photo by Broadimage/Shutterstock

But his rugged upbringing meant that he was more willing and open to opportunities. During his acting studies and between auditions, Sam worked several construction jobs to pay the bills. California was full of construction jobs back then. His employment would end up influencing many of his acting roles he would later become famous for…

The Military Guy

Sam was somewhat typecast from the beginning. He was mostly cast as tough, strong, and almost always outdoors. Throughout his career, Sam had some roles where he played the military man, partly due to his tall frame and commanding presence. He seemed like the natural choice for a soldier role in his younger years and then as an army officer in his later years.

Sam Elliott in The Hulk in 2003.
Photo by Peter Sorel / Universal / Marvel / Kobal /

It looks as though there was more than just a bit of reality in Sam’s acting. He spent some time with the California Air National Guard around the time he was in college, working construction jobs, and going on auditions. Sam considers his short time in the military as a major factor in developing his skills and discipline in his acting career.

His Break into Westerns

Sam Elliot had stable roots and a head on his shoulders, and he was even getting positive feedback regarding his acting. But he didn’t turn into a star overnight. His start in showbiz was a modest one, one that started with an uncredited role in a Douglas western flick called ‘The Way West.’ He went on to play several roles in a few episodes of the police show called ‘Felony Squad.’

Sam Elliott and Garret Dillahunt in Justified, 2010.
Source: FX Networks / IMDB

He then did some minor roles over the next couple of years. Those early gigs played a crucial role in honing his acting skills as well as him getting noticed by the right people. The people that had connections; the people that took his career to the next level. Elliott’s future was about to get a lot brighter.

His Movie Debut

His first notable role in a movie with real significance was still minor. But that small part was in a movie with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Yes, he had a part in the classic western, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’ Okay, so Elliott didn’t even have a name for this role and was known as Card Player #2.

Sam Elliott as card player number 2 in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Source: Pinterest

But still, it was nevertheless a big break for the budding actor, especially since the film became a box office hit and millions of people got to see his face. In a nice case of happenstance, Katharine Ross, who played one of the leads in the movie Kid ended up becoming Elliott’s wife. They didn’t know each other on set, though, only having met until a decade later and getting married in 1994.

The 60s and 70s

As the years passed from the 60s to the 70s, Sam got more and more jobs in front of the cameras. But he had to wait a bit longer for his breakout role. Sam was appearing on several TV shows, including F.B.I, Land of the Giants, Bracken’s World, and Lancer. He also had a small role in the movie ‘The Games.’

Sam Elliott in a screenshot from the movie Mission: Impossible in 1966.
Photo by Ivan Peixoto / IMDB

In 1969, Elliott earned his first TV credit as Dan Kenyon in the show, ‘Judd for the Defense’ in an episode called “The Crystal Maze.” That same year, was in Lancer in the episode called “Death Bait,” playing a character named Renslo. In the 1970–71 TV season, Elliott starred as Doug Robert in the hit series Mission: Impossible.

A Growing Television Career

Elliott never stopped auditioning for movies and was able to land some supporting roles, but plenty of his roles in this period was in television shows. And with time, his roles got juicier, beginning with a 13-episode recurring part in Mission: Impossible. After that, he got his big break when he played the title role in the TV movie, Evel Knievel.

Sam Elliott in Evel Knievel, 1974,
Source: Viacom Productions / IMDB

Between 1976 and 1977, Elliott was TV’s “It guy” and was already soaring in his early career. He played the lead character, Sam Damon, in the miniseries called ‘Once an Eagle.’ It was an adaptation of the Anton Myrer war novel. Sam got to star alongside actresses Amy Irving, Kim Hunter, and Melanie Griffith, among others.

The Love Connection

During the same time, Sam’s love life was getting hot as well. He and Katherine Ross (who was in Butch Cassidy) co-starred with him again. This time in the 1978 horror flick, ‘The Legacy.’ It was almost ten years since they first co-starred in the same movie. And again, Elliott had just a cameo appearance, and the two never shared any scenes at the time.

Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott in The Legacy.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

The Legacy film ended up becoming more than an opportunity to take his career to another level. It was his first starring role in a major motion film, but it was also the beginning of a serious relationship with a beautiful co-star. Wedding bells were going to be ringing in Hollywood very soon.

He Was Smitten

It would later be revealed that Sam Elliott was truly smitten by Katharine Ross from the days of filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid back in 1969. Given his seemingly natural confidence and charisma, it comes as a surprise to many that Elliott was too afraid of making the first move.

Sam Elliot and Katharine Ross looking smitten in The Legacy.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

And come on – what hope does anyone have if this rugged and handsome chic magnet didn’t have the guts to make a move? Years later, Elliott confessed about his first time meeting Katharine, saying that he didn’t dare try talking to her back then. “She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene,” he explained. Well, if you put it that way, Sam…

His ASSets

The Legacy offered even more firsts for Sam. It was also the first time he exposed his butt on screen. That movie was a real game-changer: a new big movie, a new girlfriend (later wife), and a booty that would get noticed. The Bare Facts, a printed guide to nudity in movies, gave Elliott a 3 out of 3 stars for his performance in the movie. Mostly because of his bottom.

Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross in The Legacy.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

In an industry where it’s more likely to see women bare it all on-screen to get more roles, Sam broke the stereotype with this one. He was the exception to the rule. So what did his lady, Katharine, think about millions of people looking at her beau’s butt on screen? I don’t know but, but if you meet her, ask her.

Katharine Fell for Him

What was it about Sam that made Katharine Ross not only notice him but fall for him? Was it his rugged good looks? His blunt personality? Or was it his deep voice and manly mustache? Many women would have been happy to switch roles with Katharine. But she has been particularly discreet about why she fell in love with him.

Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.
Photo by 20th Century Fox / Campanile Productions / Newman-Foreman Company / Kobal /

When asked, all Katharine said was “probably all that and more,” and when they worked together, “one thing led to another.” Wow, how descriptive. I guess it’s hard to pinpoint the thing or things that makes one love another. Feelings of love can be triggered by all kinds of things, and when a man with “all that and more” comes along, sometimes it’s just meant to be.

A Controversial Relationship

Like many relationships in Hollywood, their romance ran into its challenges almost immediately. One major problem was the fact that at the time, Katharine was still technically married to a movie set technician, Gaetano Lisi. Their marriage was already on the rocks big time and headed toward divorce, but it was still considered to be quite scandalous at the time.

Photograph of Gaetano Lisi as a younger man. / Photograph of Gaetano Lisi at his last wedding.
Source: Tumblr / Pinterest

As soon as Ross’ divorce to Lisi was finalized, she was free to pursue her relationship with Sam. Now, she was open and more deeply committed to the man she met and fell in love with. But her divorce was nothing new to her; she had already been divorced four times. Sam, on the other hand, had never been married.

Hollywood’s Sexiest Couple

At the time of their marriage, both of their careers were soaring and attracted a great amount of unwanted attention from the tabloids. The media was more interested in their love life than their potential as actors. Sam’s infamous butt scene in The Legacy increased the attention, so much so that they were featured together on Playgirl Magazine’s October 1979 cover.

The cover of Playgirl Magazine’s October 1979 cover with Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott.
Source: eBay

They were called “Hollywood’s Sexiest Couple,” which effectively destroyed hopes they might have had for a private love life. Sam much preferred to be known for his professional work rather than his butt or even his love life, but this is Hollywood. Elliot practically became a sex symbol overnight, and he wasn’t very pleased with the stigma that came with it.

He Fell Ill

Audiences never got to see Elliott perform his role as the lead in the 1982 TV feature called ‘The Ambush Murders.’ The movie was based on the true story of a black activist who had been wrongfully convicted for a murder of two white cops. The story was also about the lawyer who took his case and attempted to have him acquitted.

A promotional poster for The Ambush Murders.
Photo by David Goldsmith Productions / IMDB

The real-life case captured the country’s attention back in the 70s, and many people were eager to see the story dramatized in the TV movie. Sam Elliott was playing the lead role as the defense attorney, but he came down with an illness during filming. James Brolin had to step in and replace him. While this is by no means uncommon in movies, I can only wonder how different it would have turned out if Elliott played the part.

Tying the Knot

Sam and Katharine were dating for about six years before tying the knot in 1984. Sam was inexperienced when it came to marriage compared to Katharine, who was getting into her 4th marriage. It’s hard to believe that a young couple, perhaps even considered a mismatch, would go on to be one of Hollywood’s longest-lasting and most stable marriages.

Sam and Katharine around 1984.
Source: Tumblr

The couple started having kids almost immediately. They had their first and their only child, Cleo Rose Elliott, the same year that they got hitched. Cleo Rose is now a musician in Malibu, California, where her parents live, too. Elliott also has a property in Oregon. And after his mother’s death in 2012 (who died at the age of 96), he also became the owner of his childhood home in Portland.

Almost Passed Up On ‘Mask’

The role that finally thrust Elliott into mainstream stardom came along in 1985 when he was cast alongside Oscar-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer, Cher, in the movie ‘Mask.’ He played the grumpy but kind-hearted biker who got romantically involved with Cher’s character. During their romance, he helped her raise her physically-challenged son.

Sam Elliott with Cher and other co-stars in Mask.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

But many people don’t know that Sam nearly missed out on this major role. At the time, he was still on his honeymoon when his agent got a hold of him and told him about this big opportunity. Sam informed his agent that he wouldn’t be able to make it back to California in time for the screen test that we called to come in for. He almost missed out on his biggest opportunity yet.

A Wise Wife

Sam’s new bride pretty much came to his rescue after he told his agent that he couldn’t do the part. She stepped in and took matters into her own hands. She was in shock when she heard that Sam had declined to do the screen test. So she called his agent immediately, telling him that her new hubby would be there for the screening. As it turns out, Katharine’s initiative proved crucial to getting her husband into mainstream Hollywood movies.

Sam Elliott with Cher on a bike in the movie Mask.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

Sam not only gave a remarkable performance next to Cher, who was at the peak of her career (as well as one of the most famous singers of all time), but he managed to steal a few scenes, too. The Los Angeles Times wrote about his performance, saying that “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.”

The Cowboy Life

Despite a rich and seasoned career in all types of roles, Sam Elliott has been intertwined with the whole Western genre since his early acting days. His stature, looks, and outdoor have all helped mold him into a manly and rough stereotype that many producers were looking for. Sam starred in some Western movies, most notably ‘Tombstone,’ ‘The Quick and the Dead,’ ‘The Hi-Lo Country,’ ‘You Know My Name,’ and ‘The Desperate Trail.’

Sam Elliott and Craig Sheffer in The Desperate Trail in 1995.
Photo by Mpca / Kobal /

Years later, in 2007, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum honored Sam Elliott’s career by inducting the Western actor into their Hall of Great Western Performers.

By the way, if you loved the movie Tombstone, check out our article on the classic Western film * here * NOTE

His Work Ethic

Only a handful of Hollywood stars really share Sam’s unique upbringing of growing up in the wilderness and maintaining a good work ethic. Sam’s youth has a lot to do with how he became an industrious, tough guy. And he hasn’t been too reserved about it. He revealed how he grew up hanging around his father and that his dad’s friends “were all men’s men and outdoorsmen.”

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, and Kurt Russell in Tombstone in 1993.
Photo by Hollywood / Cinergi / Kobal /

So when it came to the result of Sam Elliott as a professional man, I guess we can assume that it was as much nurture as it was nature that made him into what he is. Sadly, his father never got to see the fruits of his son’s labor. But chances are, he would have been proud.

The Evolution of His Voice

It only makes sense that Sam’s deep and resounding baritone voice got him many voiceover and narration gigs. His current co-star Ashton Kutcher from the show, The Ranch, says that as far he is concerned, Sam ought to narrate everything. However, it took time for his voice to be as deep as it is now. In his earlier roles, it was evident that Elliott’s voice wasn’t as significant as it is today.

Sam Elliott and Danny Masterson in the show The Ranch in 2017.
Photo by Greg Gayne / Netflix / Kobal /

When he was asked about his voice, Sam said, “It came with age. It just kept going down the older I got.” Elliott has done voice-over narration for a bunch of commercials, including Dodge, IBM, Kinney Drugs, Union Pacific, and the American Beef Council. Since 2007, Elliott did voice-overs for Coors beer, bringing his voice and Western appeal to the brand.

The Secret to Longevity

Similar to being picky about what you eat to ensure a healthy life, being picky about roles you take in Hollywood should also ensure a lasting career. That has always been Sam Elliott’s game plan to stay popular and relevant as the years go by. He is known for advising other actors and actresses against taking just any role offered to them; that they risk getting burnt out and losing their fans.

Sam Elliott with Dakota Blue Richards in a scene from The Golden Compass in 2007.
Photo by Laurie Sparham / New Line Cinema / Kobal /

When speaking about his career, Sam has said that he always knew that he wanted to act. “I wanted to be an actor since I was nine years old, and I figured that was only one way ever to have any longevity, and that’s to be careful about what kind of work you do,” he said.

He Almost Wasn’t Wade Garrett

When it came to home video sales, Road House was one of a secret or guilty pleasure of millions of people in America. Even though the 1989 movie didn’t quite get a lot of respect, it was still a fun one. It was a movie that introduced Sam to a new generation of fans. He played the infamous role of Wade Garrett, a sort of guru or mentor for Patrick Swayze’s lead character.

Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott in Road House in 1989.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

Apparently, Sam had originally been set to play the main bad guy, Brad Wesley, but he didn’t quite connect to that role. When they offered him the role of Garrett, Sam accepted it in a heartbeat. And I feel the need now to say… and the rest is history!

The Big Lebowski

Any fan of the cult film, The Big Lebowski, knows that Sam Elliot is the narrator. This 1998 classic film had Elliot play the character of The Stranger, who narrated the entire film. His strange cowboy character warns The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) about using “cuss words.” But when recalling parts from the book “I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You,” Elliott used the most profanities by far of any cast member.

Jeff Bridges and Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski in 1998.
Source: Polygram Filmed Entertainment / IMDB

The Coen Brothers are big fans of Sam Elliot and knew they had to get him involved in the film. And Sam has proven over and over in his career that he can make a minor role memorable, which was the case with his part in The Big Lebowski.

Playing Chief of Staff

Sam’s performance in The Big Lebowski was another one of his career’s high points. It just so happened that writer/director Rod Lurie had just finished the script for The Contender and cast Jeff Bridges as the US president. Lurie enjoyed the on-screen chemistry he saw between Bridges and Elliott in The Big Lebowski, so he wanted to recreate it by casting Sam as the president’s Chief of Staff.

Sam Elliott with Mike Binder and Joan Allen as the Chief of Staff in The Contender in the year 2000.
Photo by Gino Mifsud / Battleground Prod / Cinerenta / Kobal /

But because Sam was always in Westerns, Lurie’s decision to cast him in the movie sparked some controversy. The Contender (from 2000) was a modern-day political drama. It was by no means a Western. But Sam relished in the opportunity, which great for him to stretch his acting muscles. He knocked it out the ballpark and received nothing but praise.

Some Family Drama

No amount of professional success can protect you from family problems. In 2011, Cleo, Sam, and Katharine’s then 26-year-old daughter stabbed her mother with a pair of scissors. Katharine was forced to file a restraining order against her one and only daughter following her death threats. The court ordered Cleo to keep a minimum of 100 yards from her mother.

Sam, Cleo, and Katharine at The Hulk film premiere in 2003.
Photo by Bei /

According to People Magazine, Katharine stated that Cleo “verbally and emotionally abused me even as a little girl, but became increasingly violent at age 12 or 13.” That day in March of 2011, Cleo kicked in a cupboard door, chased her mother around the house, and stabbed her in the arm six times with scissors, according to court documents.

Making Amends

That incident between his daughter and wife sure sounds traumatic. But the crisis was temporary, and the family ended up choosing to opt-out of going to court for the hearing of the extension of the restraining order. The case was thrown out, and the mother and daughter have since made amends. Together with Sam, the family has focused on improving their relationships.

Cleo, Sam, and Katharine at the film premiere of A Star is Born.
Photo by Matt Baron /

Cleo now lives in California as a model and professional musician. She also composes songs and plays the guitar. Years after her violent outburst, Cleo now posts on social media photos that often feature both of her parents. But the truth is that the pink-haired daughter shares more photos with her dad than with her mom.

A Mustache Man

One of Sam’s distinctive features, other than his voice, is no doubt his mustache. He had to shave it off for a few movies. But during the 1960s and the 70s, he was practically never = seen without his thick and impressive stache. In 2015, Sam was one of the inaugural inductees in the International Mustache Hall of Fame. Yeah, there is such a thing!

Sam Elliott in Mask with his infamous mustache.
Source: Shutterstock

Sam Elliott’s mustache doesn’t appear in every Sam Elliott movie. The 74-year-old enjoyed a career that spanned nearly five decades, and in that time, his stache has gained a cult-like status in Hollywood. It’s what every man has in mind when he starts a ‘Movember’ stache-growing mission. And when you think of it, his voice and mustache go together perfectly.

Links to the Alamo

If anything about Sam is for certain, it is that he has been deeply linked with Westerns. This has a lot to do with his features and the tough-guy attitude. But there’s more to it, as had a significant and poignant family history of love of the Old West. “My family had a relative in the Alamo,” Sam had once said.

Sam Elliott and John Wayne in The Shootist in 1976.
Photo by Paramount / Kobal /

He also added that he had “a history in Texas.” And for most of us, Texas and Westerns go hand in hand. Sam knows all about the Battle of the Alamo, which was indeed a defeat, but a pivotal occurrence during the Texas Revolution. It was at that time that the Republic of Texas gained independence from Mexico.

More Than Just Acting

Sam has made a name for himself in the acting industry, but he has also gone behind the scenes. He tried his hand in production, writing, and on one occasion, singing. He sang a cover version of the Tom Petty song “I Won’t Back Down” for the 2006 animated feature Barnyard. This film prominently featured his voice work.

Sam Elliott with Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, and Debra Winger in season 3 of The Ranch.
Photo by Greg Gayne / Netflix / Kobal /

Other than that, Sam produced the 18-episode Netflix series with Ashton Kutcher, The Ranch. If you haven’t seen the show yet, it takes place on the fictional Iron River Ranch in an also fictitious small town of Garrison, Colorado. It’s about the life of the Bennetts, a dysfunctional family of two brothers, their father, and his estranged wife, a local bar owner.

Long-Lasting Love

Many expressed doubt in the early days of his relationship with Katharine, probably because of her four previous failed marriages. And in Hollywood, marriages aren’t really expected to last. Katharine was still officially married to her fourth husband when she started seeing Sam. But their long-lasting marriage has silenced the haters after more than 33 years together.

Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross at The Chainsaw Artist gallery event in LA in 2019.
Photo by Broadimage /

Elliott admits that their relationship had its share of problems, but the two of them always work together to resolve the issues. “We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together,” Elliott says. “You work past the s**t; you don’t walk away from it. That’s how relationships last.” I would say that’s pretty damn good advice for us married folk!

He’s Forever Thankful

Sam has been good at showing gratitude in his life. “The two things that I wanted in my life were to have a movie career and to be married, to have a family,” he once said. “It’s an embarrassment of riches that I’ve got both.” Elliott started building a successful career in the cut-throat environment of Hollywood, but he never let his career get in the way of finding happiness.

Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross looking in love at The Golden Compass screening after-party.
Photo by Alex Berliner / BEI /

And his key happiness is being grateful. Thanks to the support from his wife, Elliott’s career has gotten better and better. And with his daughter by his side, his “embarrassment of riches” is a bonus. A really wonderful bonus, but it’s not the main thing he aims for in his life.

His Net Worth

It’s not about the money for Sam, but it is almost possible to discuss famous stars without curiosity about how much money they make. Several reports have indicated that Elliott’s net worth is estimated at $16 million. While that figure may only be an estimation, it is still a nice amount of money to be worth! And he sure has earned it.

Sam Elliott’s home in Oregon.
Source: Pinterest

The bulk of his money has come from all of his acting and voice work in commercials, TV shows, and movies. But Elliott also owns properties in different parts of the US. According to Net Worth Celebrities, if you break it down, Elliott gets $1.3 million per year, $108,000 per month, $27,000 per week, and $3, 900 per day.

Sam’s Secret

Elliott’s Hollywood career blossomed at a time when the monopoly-like studio system controlled all aspects of production, including all the talent. He started out at the same time as his longtime friend and fellow Western legend, Tom Selleck. The two are still friends today. Back in the day, they would often work with the secretaries and many folks at the Fox Studios law offices to get the first look at new promising scripts.

The cover of the DVD ‘The Shadow Riders’ with Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott.
Source: CBS / IMDB

If anything stood out to him, Sam would immediately start to contact casting agents to try and land the part. According to Sam, this was nothing to be ashamed of. In his eyes, you had to do whatever you could to get ahead in a dog eat dog world. It was a very tough business at the time. It still is!

Smokey, the Bear

Sam’s deep and powerful voice has been one of the key elements of his long career. It earned him one of his lower-profile roles, one in which he has been doing for over 10 years. Yes, he is the official voice of Smokey Bear. Your favorite public announcements about forest fires, informing you that “Only you can prevent wildfires” are delivered by a man in a bear costume. But Sam just does the voice.

Smokey the Bear and an information sign about the danger of fire in the national forest in Oregon.
Photo by Egmont Strigl / imageBROKER /

This was a natural choice for Sam since he grew up with his dad, who worked in the Fish & Wildlife Service. That and the fact that his voice is just perfectly fit for the role. But this campaign is more than just a gig. It’s a useful public service that helps protect the country’s forests and prevents extremely damaging fires that, unfortunately, are becoming more common.

An Eternal Perfectionist

Given his years of success in such a challenging environment, you’d think that Sam would have a pretty grand opinion of his skills. But it is quite the opposite. Sam is very critical of his own performances and has even expressed regrets about not going back and doing it all over again. He strives for perfection, evidently.

Sam Elliott at his Hand and Footprint Ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre in 2019.
Photo by Eric Charbonneau /

Sam had also expressed regret over the fact that he hardly had any formal acting training when he was younger. In his opinion, it would have made him “a more interesting actor.” But it’s hard to imagine him being any more interesting than he already is. But it’s only a credit to his integrity that he would say such a thing in such an honest way.

Quality Control

While Sam has been very picky about the roles he accepts, his creative control goes even deeper than that. Sam has, on occasion, been involved in writing scripts and screenplays when necessary. And rumor has it that he never backs down when he disagrees with a director. And sometimes, those agreements can cause tension.

Sam Elliott and Lady Gaga on stage being honored by SAF-AFTRA.
Photo by Michael Buckner / Variety /

Sam has spoken about not shying away from a clash with the powers behind a movie’s production. He was quoted saying, “I’d rather be a pain in the ass and make better art.” And you know what, he’s right! Wouldn’t you rather, as a viewer, see better work at the expense of some director or producer’s hurt feelings or shouting on set? I sure would.

A Fondness for Westerns

Elliott has been typecast as the cowboy in many Westerns. Speaking about his liking of the Western genre and why he got so involved in it, Elliott said in an interview, “I think it has something to do with integrity and a man’s word and honor and all that kind of stuff like values, morality, and all that kind of stuff that everybody looks kind of down their nose at.”

Sam Elliott as a cowboy in The Big Lebowski.
Photo by Polygram / Working Title / Kobal /

Even the Coen brothers cast him as a cowboy in the Big Lebowski. That’s when Elliott decided to embrace his image of a deep-voiced cowboy with a handlebar mustache. “You just grow up, and you realize, you know, life serves up what it serves up. 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 said.

Why He Did It

It’s a well-known fact that his father never approved of his decision to aim for a career in acting. But Sam has indicated that his father was the main reason behind his decision to go for it. It’s very difficult to do something to please someone yet face rejection from that same person. We don’t really know how deep of a burden that was on Sam in his personal life, but it must have been heavy.

Sam Elliott in The Final Cut in 1996.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

“That’s just the worst part of it,” Sam was quoted as saying, “When you don’t think your dad’s proud of you,” Sam revealed how many of his other hobbies, like fishing, pleased his father a lot, but his career choice was something that he was adamant about telling his son that it just wasn’t the right thing to do.

What’s He Up To Now?

Elliott has been busy in the past few years, mostly because of his own Netflix series, The Ranch, for which he produced 18 episodes. Recently, in 2017, he played a starring role in The Hero, where co-starred with his wife, Katharine. Sam also had a performance in 2018 critically acclaimed A Star is Born, where he received several nominations for different awards.

Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper from a scene in A Star is Born.
Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal /

When commenting on his Academy Award nomination, he declared: “I think the thing off the top of my head might be, ‘It’s about f**king time!'” However, it was his wife, who was a big star back in the 60s and the 70s, who has decided to take fewer roles in recent times. She is far from retirement, though. She recently completed filming her parts in the comedy, Attachments.

The Hero

Every time Sam is asked about his favorite movie project, he prefers to talk about the production crew and the work conditions rather than any specific movie or role. “I think what I remember most about films are the people rather than the films themselves,” the actor put it. Sam’s best onset experience has arguably been in the movie, The Hero.

Sam Elliott in The Hero, 2017.
Source: Houston King Productions / IMDB

He said how the entire cast and crew were a dream to work with, and it was “a labor of love.” The role, and the whole movie, was written for him. He starred as Lee Hayden, an aging Western film icon with a golden voice, an actor whose best performances are behind him. His work received much critical acclaim for his role.

Fit For the Part

Sam Elliott was the perfect fit for the character Lee Hayden in The Hero. Brett Hatley, the movie’s writer, and director worked with Sam in ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams.’ He enjoyed working with him so much that he created a script for a movie just for him. The result was The Hero. And that’s not typically how it works in Hollywood.

Sam Elliott and Laura Prepon in The Hero, 2017.
Source: Houston King Productions / IMDB

What are the odds that a film is specifically be made for an actor? Slim to none. As successful and well-respected as Sam is, he is not your regular A-list superstar. Therefore, this movie was one of those rare events and one where Sam felt “totally flattered.” The movie was a big hit and quite successful.

His Biggest Influences

Speaking of his parents, Sam said, “To be honest with you, I think my parents made the biggest difference in my life. My father was a man’s man, and that rubbed off on me. My mom has always been completely supportive of my work.” Such words are not typically mentioned by Hollywood stars. But these kinds of remarks go to show us Sam’s personal and human side.

Sam Elliott at the Annual Academy Awards in 2019.
Photo by Andrew H. Walker / BEI /

To many people, Sam never looked at the world through the eyes of a jaded actor. His innate sense of being down to earth and a real man has played an important part in giving him an incredible career and life. While his father passed long ago, he is still a driving force for Sam.

No Problem Being Typecast

“I think there’s a real truth to Westerns and a real simplicity to them that appeals to people,” Sam was quoted as saying. Sam is clearly okay with being typecast as the cowboy. He sees the Western genre as a valid and human form of cinematic expression, one that really speaks to him as a person. And that realness shines in his work.

Sam Elliott as a cowboy in The Hero.
Source: Houston King Productions / IMDB

And while Westerns are considered a niche genre and you either love them or hate them, there are enough people in America (and the world) who can’t get enough of the cowboys, horses, and gun slinging. Sam blends in so well in the Wild West that he was basically born to play a cowboy. Don’t you think?

It’s Not All About the Money

Just like anyone on this earth, Sam Elliott likes making money. But he never placed it at the center of his life. Sam says that he likes his voiceover work because it gives him financial security and freedom to select movie roles carefully. He would give advice to younger actors to avoid the temptation to accept any job just because of the money.

Sam Elliott in the movie ‘Grandma’ cooking corn on the cob in the kitchen.
Photo by Moviestore /

It was something he was forced to do sometimes back in his early years of struggling to get gigs. Speaking of paychecks from movies, here are some of the amounts he received for the movies he’s been in Draft Day – $126,000; I’ll See You in My Dreams – $138,000; Rock Dog – $400,000; Justified – $500,000; and Grandma – $1 million.

Katharine’s Career

By the time these two met and fell for each other, Katharine was already a movie star. She had leading roles in The Graduate (with Dustin Hoffman) and, of course, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (with Paul Newman and Robert Redford.) But after the two united, Sam’s career soared while Katharine has chosen to slow down.

Katharine Ross in a wedding dress chasing after Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

She’s still a successful actress, just not as prominent as before. To explain his wife’s career path, Sam said that Katharine is no longer as hungry as she one was – that she doesn’t “chase it” anymore. Sam believes his wife deserves bigger and better things. He is sweet when speaking of his wife, which just makes it clear how they stayed together and strong.

It’s What’s for Dinner

It’s not hard to come across Elliott’s velvety voice when you’re watching TV. One of his most notable voiceover works was a series of ads for the beef industry. Their campaign ran for several years, and you, for sure, remember them. If you remember the famous tagline “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner,” then you recognize Sam’s voice.

The logo for ‘Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.’
Source: YouTube

If his voice didn’t make you want to order a steak at your night out at a restaurant, then I don’t know what can. Sam has said that he agreed to do the voiceovers for those advertisements as a way of helping out all the hard-working ranchers and folks in the farming industry. However, Sam wasn’t able to deal with the ad agency’s increasingly demanding attitude, so he eventually moved on to do other projects.

Notable Changes

After half a century on our screens, Sam is something of a wise authority as to the changes that have occurred in Hollywood and how movies are made. He’s seen it all. A lot has changed, but not everything. Sam says, “there are some constants that are never going to change.” He said that perhaps the biggest change in Hollywood is the technology.

An older scene of Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross in The Legacy.
Photo by Moviestore Collection /

“Changes that have been made in the technological world have revolutionized the movie business on almost every level. It’s most obvious in the field of special effects, but it pervades every part of the production of every kind of movie. From the guts of the camera to the size and placement of the microphone, to the tools available in the editing room. Everything has changed.”

One Day at a Time

While Sam has never obsessed about the future, he also doesn’t linger in the past. He’s not too worried about his legacy is, and he will be to future generations of movie fans. Instead, he believes in living in the moment and focusing on the tasks at hand at any given moment. This isn’t only a healthy attitude to have, but one that can be respected.

Sam Elliot speaking on The Orchard ‘The Hero’ Panel.
Photo by Rob Latour / Deadline /

Elliott has maintained a consistently healthy attitude throughout his career. He was quoted as saying that “It’s hard work, but it’s a creative, artistic process. If you can’t enjoy that, then you’re going about it wrong.” I don’t think anyone can really deny these words of wisdom. And he certainly has enough experience to say them.

Who Wore it Better?

Other than being acting buddies, Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck have a lot in common. Both of their careers are closely linked with the Western genre, and they both have the most prominent mustaches in the history of Hollywood. Sam is questioned about his stache often, including rumors of a mustache rivalry between him and Tom.

Sam Elliott at the Academy Awards. / Tom Selleck at PaleyFest NY.
Photo by Andrew H. Walker, BEI, / Kristina Bumphrey, Starpix,

You have to hand it to Sam, who always handles the question with the most diplomatic of responses. “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.” Sam also can’t resist a tiny little stroke of ego and once said, “I don’t think he’s ever grown his out the way I’ve grown mine out over the years.”

In The Works

Even though it has been half a century, his last movie might have been his biggest success to date. Elliott received critical acclaim for that performance in A Star is Born. He won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor; he was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role.

Sam Elliott standing at the podium at the National Board of Review Awards Gala in 2019.
Photo by Andrew H. Walker /

H also got his first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Sam played the brother and manager of Bradley Cooper’s character. He described it as an “amazing experience,” giving much praise to both Cooper and Lady Gaga for their phenomenal performances. I personally haven’t seen A Star is Born, but I think after this, I might just have to!