The Man Behind ‘The Voice’: The Life Story Of Sam Elliott

Sam Elliott

Sam Elliott is an incredibly attractive actor with the deep southern drawl who is fawned over by millions of women and envied by throngs of men. Born in California, he would spend time in Oregon only to come back to the Sunshine State. Sam would meet the love of his life on set, become the biggest star of western films, and prove his father wrong; all that in just one lifetime. However, there is much more to him than the cowboys he loves to play.

Local Paper Boosted His Confidence

Once high school was over, Elliott studied at a two-year program at Clark College in Washington. There, he was cast in a production of “Guys and Dolls.” 

Local Paper Boosted His Confidence

A local journalist watched the show and followed up with an article featuring his performance. That promotion was the final push he needed to move his career to Hollywood. There, Elliott would flourish as an actor surrounded by love, fame, and money. 

Worked In Construction While Auditioning

Most people are not overnight Hollywood successes. Aspiring actors have to extra work hard to make ends meet because they will also need to work regular jobs alongside seeking out their dreams.

Worked In Construction While Auditioning

Elliott was one of these people. In order to pay the bills while attending auditions, and taking bit roles Elliott worked in construction part-time.

His Father Didn’t Approve Of His Acting

Although Sam Elliott was born in California in 1944, he spent most of his childhood years in Oregon.  Sam decided that that wasn’t his cup of tea and that instead, he was going to be an actor.

His Father Didn’t Approve Of His Acting

He announced this decision to his father when he was only 9-years-old. Elliott’s father was not impressed, and it caused a strain in their relationship.

Down the Wrong Path

Sam’s “outdoorsy” father had a tough time accepting that his young son wanted to be a professional actor as he didn’t feel he could make a real living off of such a trade.

Down the Wrong Path

In an interview, Elliott said, “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.”

Joined The Military

Construction wasn’t the only gig Elliott picked up as a side job; Elliott also joined the military service. He joined the California Army National Guard (CAL ARNG).

Joined The Military

Certainly, his training in discipline and leadership helped him become the man everyone loves today as these are qualities needed by the cowboys that Sam so often plays.

First Gigs

One of Elliott’s first screen parts was a small role, but it was a crucial step in beginning his lengthy career. In 1968, he played the role of Jack on an episode of the series “The Felony Squad”.

First Gigs

The producers of the show would later give him two more small roles. He would appear on the show one more time in 1968 and the next time in 1969.

Small Roles, Big Roles

Small television roles led to small movie parts. In 1969, Elliott portrayed ‘Card Player #2’ in the classic western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. He didn’t know this at the time, but his future wife, also had a role in the film.

Small Roles, Big Roles

However, Katharine Ross had a much larger role in the film. She portrayed the leading female role, Etta Place.

Small Roles Became The Norm

Even though he’d landed a role in a blockbuster film, Elliott was still only getting small parts in the late 60s and early 70s. He appeared on shows such as “Lancer”, “The F.B.I.”, “Land of the Giants”, and “Bracken’s World”.

Small Roles Became The Norm

He also had a small role in the film “The Games”. This was his first movie role where his character was given a name – Richie Robinson.

The Stardom Begins

Though he was landing small roles at the beginning of his career in the early 70s, by the middle of the decade Sam Elliott was getting more and more attention from casting directors.

The Stardom Begins

He got more parts and was nailing auditions for more prestigious roles. He had recurring roles on TV for “Aspen”, “Once an Eagle”, and “Mission: Impossible.”

‘The Legacy’ Brought Him Love

After plenty of small roles, Elliott was able to land his first big role in a film. He played the lead male role of Pete Danner in the 1978 film “The Legacy”.

‘The Legacy’ Brought Him Love

The film didn’t win him an Oscar, nor was it a blockbuster. However, Elliott left with something even better: a loving girlfriend. Katharine Ross played opposite of Elliott in the film and sparks immediately flew between the two.

He Was Too Nervous To Approach Her

All men were too impressed to approach Katharine Ross, and Elliott was no exception.

He Was Too Nervous To Approach Her

In a 2015 interview with AARP Magazine,  Elliot said “I didn’t dare try to talk to her then. She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene” (referring to his role as Card Player #2).

The Laws of Attraction

The Mercury News asked Katharine what attracted her most in Elliott, his mustache, gentlemanly charm, or his rugged good looks?

The Laws of Attraction

Her response was “Probably all that and more. We were working together and one thing led to another. And here we are.”

Katharine Was Married When They Met

Katharine Ross had quite the full love life before her future husband Sam. She had been married four times before wedding Elliott and even still married to her fourth husband, Gaetano Lisi, when she had the pleasure of meeting Sam on the set of “The Legacy.”

Katharine Was Married When They Met

Ross and Lisi finalized their divorce in 1979, allowing Elliott’s and Ross’s love to come to be.

Didn’t Want To Be Known As An Object

After Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott announced their new relationship, the public and fans went bananas. They just had to know more about the hottest new Hollywood couple.

Didn’t Want To Be Known As An Object

In 1976, the two sat down for a chat with a women’s magazine. During the interview, Elliott said, “I don’t want to be known as an object.”

You’ve Been Replaced!

Elliott was happy to have been cast in the drama “The Ambush Murder”. The movie follows a black man who is wrongfully imprisoned for causing two white policemen to pass away.

You’ve Been Replaced!

However, Elliott fell quite ill and was forced to drop from filming. Casting directors made the difficult choice to replace Elliott with James Brolin.

Saying I Do

After they met on the set of “The Legacy”, Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott became inseparable. Their love grew strong and fast. The happy couple decided to wed in 1984.

Saying I Do

Their daughter, who would be named Cleo Rose Elliott, was born that same year. Unfortunately, Cleo and her parents would later deal with many issues that would include the court of law.

An Interrupted Honeymoon

Elliott’s most defining role as an actor was as Cher’s biker boyfriend in the movie “The Mask.”

An Interrupted Honeymoon

However, that role almost didn’t happen because he happened to receive a call from his agent about the role while he was on his honeymoon with his wife Katharine in Hawaii.

The Forced Audition

Katharine would not let her husband turn down the audition for “Mask.”

The Forced Audition

After Sam told his agent he would not be leaving his honeymoon early just for an audition, Katharine called the agent back herself and said that he would in fact be auditioning for the role. Katharine had an intense feeling that Sam just had to have this opportunity as an actor.

Always The Western Hero

Sam Elliott quickly became known as the face of western movies. However, the film “Mask” put him on the map as a serious actor and showed that he can do far more than play a cowboy.

Always The Western Hero

Still, he was quickly cast in a slew of western films through the end of the 80s through the 90s.

Everything from my Father

There is still one person who most influenced the famous thespian. During an interview with NPR, Elliott said “And I was with my dad and my – and his peers, who were all men’s men and outdoorsmen.

Everything from my Father

All had incredible work ethics and were all good men. And they were really the ones I think that I learned what kind of a man I wanted to be when I grew up.”

The Elliott Voice

What many don’t realize is that his baritone vocal cords came with time. If you compare his first roles to his more recent ones, the difference in his voice is obvious. During an interview with NPR, he was asked about his voice.

Didn’t Always Have That Voice

He said “It came with age. It just kept going down the older I got – can’t imagine it’s going to go much further.”

Chose Roles Wisely

There are times in every Hollywood actor’s life when they take on roles they don’t necessarily want in order to remain relevant. Sam Elliott was never one of those actors.

Chose Roles Wisely

Instead, he chose his roles quite wisely, and only ones that he knew he would be the best fit for. According to IMDB, Elliot said “I’m picky, very picky.”

‘Road House’ Was Originally Turned Down

Elliott’s portrayal of Wade Garrett in “Road House” was another one of his famous accomplishments.

‘Road House’ Was Originally Turned Down

The casting director sent the script intending for Elliott to play the role of Brad Wesley, which Elliott turned down. But he was then given the script for the role of Wade Garrett, a part which he loved.

Importance of “The Big Lebowski”

Elliott’s character of “the stranger” in “The Big Lebowski” was a small part, but one of his better-known ones. The role was so perfect for him that he played it with next to no effort.

Importance of “The Big Lebowski”

During an interview with NPR, Elliott said “As I opened up and read, you know – a couple of pages in, and it’s talking about this voice-over. And it said literally on the page, the voice-over sounded not unlike Sam Elliott.”

Friends in High Places

Sam Elliott would likely not have been given the role of Kermit Newman in “The Contender” if he hadn’t been cast in “The Big Lebowski.” Rod Lurie, director and writer of “The Contender”, sent a copy of the script to Elliott.

Friends in High Places

Lurie said that Jeff Bridges would be in the film and that he’d loved seeing them work together on “The Big Lebowski.”

Family Threats

In 2011, the Elliott family made headlines after news got out of an argument between Katherine and her daughter Cleo. Katharine claimed that her daughter stabbed her with a pair of kitchen scissors.

Family Threats

Katharine immediately filed a report that claimed Cleo said to Katharine “I want to kill you.” A restraining order was granted. At the time Cleo was 26-years-old and Katharine was 71.

Dropping Restraining Orders

The upcoming court case between Cleo and Katharine was scheduled for a few months after the initial report was filed. However, neither party showed up for the court date.

Dropping Restraining Orders

The presiding judge, therefore, decided to drop the restraining order and dismiss the case. Today, Cleo’s relationship with her parents seems to have been repaired. She is now living in California and performing music.

Legendary Facial Hair

Various traits such as a deep voice, a nice face, and a great mustache, come to mind when thinking of Sam Elliott.

Legendary Facial Hair

The mustache itself is an especially key aspect to his persona and even got him inducted into the inaugural class of the International Mustache Hall of Fame, in the category Film & Television. Other members include Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck.

Ties to the Old West

Sam Elliott does such an epic job of portraying the classic cowboy that it should come as no shock that he can actually trace his family ancestry back to the old west.

Ties to the Old West

In an interview with Slate Magazine, he was asked about how he felt being always cast as a cowboy as well as being the modern-day symbol of the Old West. He said “I have a heritage from the West. My family had a relative in the Alamo.”

A Jack of All Trades

Sam Elliott has proven how good of an actor he is time and time again. But acting isn’t the only role in the film industry that he has tackled. He also has production, writing and even singing credits, something rare for many actors.

A Jack of All Trades

You can hear him sing on the soundtrack of the animated film “Barnyard”, on the track “I Won’t Back Down.” In the film, he voiced ‘Ben the Cow’.

Happy Wife, Happy Life

Katharine had been married four times before she met Sam. In an interview with AARP, Elliott said although marriage is tough at times, it is important to work through the tough times together.

Happy Wife, Happy Life

“We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together,” he said. “You work past the bad; you don’t walk away from it. That’s how relationships last.”

All He Wanted Was Movies & Marriage

Having a long and happy marriage is an increasing rarity in Hollywood today. Most couples don’t make it past the five-year mark, but Katharine and Sam have defied all the odds.

All He Wanted Was Movies & Marriage

In an interview with NPR, Elliott said “The two things that I wanted in my life were to have a movie career and to be married, to have a family. And it’s an embarrassment of riches that I’ve got both.”

Rolling in the Benjamins

Hollywood has been quite good to Elliott in that it has found him ample financial comfort. He has thus been able to build up quite the net worth.

Rolling in the Benjamins

He makes money not only from films but also from endorsement deals and property ownership. His reported net worth is $16 million, excluding his wife’s net worth of $5 million.

A Secret Advantage

Sam Elliott was one of the last actors to be recruited by Fox Studios through the “studio system”. At Fox, he became made friends with the women in the law office.

A Secret Advantage

The women in the office allowed Elliott to read the scripts before they were sent off, so if Sam found a script he liked, he could go find the casting director and ask to audition for a role the director in question hadn’t been given yet.

Voicing Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear was invented in order to warn U.S. citizens about the dangers of Forest Fires. The American Ad Council, along with the U.S. Forest Service, chose to design the character to make him friendly and approachable.

Voicing Smokey Bear

When the character was recreated in 2008, the designers knew exactly who they wanted to voice their character.

Striving for More

It is common knowledge that everyone is their toughest critic, and Sam Elliott is no exception.

Striving for More

IMDB reported that Elliott once said “I think I might have been a more interesting actor, had more of a career earlier on, if I had more formal preparation. When I see something ten years later that I was in I think, ‘Boy, would I love to do that over.'”

A Creative Soul

Sam was always cautious about the roles he chose, but that wasn’t the only thing he was particular about. If he felt as though something could have been done better or in a more effective way, he never had a problem sharing that opinion.

A Creative Soul

He commonly disagreed with directors and even rewrote parts of screenplays.

Embracing Westerns

Sam Elliott is an actor with the potential to play a wide range of characters. However, he shared his preference for westerns with Biography.com,

Embracing Westerns

Elliott said of his penchant for westerns: “I think it has something to do with integrity and a man’s word and honor and all that kind of stuff––values, morality, all that kind of stuff that everybody looks kind of down their nose at.”

To Make his Father Proud

Though Sam’s father was highly unsupportive of him taking his career and throwing it away to become an actor, he still thinks the world of the man.

To Make his Father Proud

Elliott said during an interview on Off Camera with Sam Jones, “I wanted him to be proud of me. That’s the worst part of it. When you don’t think your dad’s proud of you – I knew he was in other areas.”

New Roles

Sam and Katharine have recently stepped back into the Hollywood limelight with several new projects. Sam worked on the Netflix series “The Ranch” alongside young actor Ashton Kutcher.

New Roles

While Kutcher and Elliott made a good team, Elliott outshone Kutcher by a landslide. In 2017, Katharine and Sam appeared again on screen together in the film “The Hero.”

The Cast of “Hero”

Sam played so many iconic roles that it would be a challenge to decide which was his favorite.

The Cast of “Hero”

“I think what I remember most about films are the people rather than the films themselves,” Elliott said. “I don’t think it will ever get any better than it was on this film [The Hero]. You know, this was on all sides of the camera, it was labor of love for a lot of people.”

A Personalized Film

Many people decided that “The Hero” was the new favorite Sam Elliott film as soon as it came out.

A Personalized Film

Elliott played the lead role of Lee Hayden so flawlessly, but this may have been because that the director, Brett Haley, wrote the screenplay knowing Elliott might possibly be cast in the role.

The Biggest Difference

In an interview with CBS, Elliott was asked who made the biggest difference in his life. He responded, “That’s very difficult to answer.

The Biggest Difference

But to be honest with you I think my parents made the biggest difference in my life…He [his father] was a man’s man, and that rubbed off on me. My mom has always been completely supportive of my work.”

Loves to Wear the Hat

During an interview with DP/30, Elliott was asked about being typecast as a cowboy throughout his career.

Loves to Wear the Hat

Elliot said he actually enjoyed it. “My family heritage comes from Texas for generations,” he said. “I think there’s a real truth to westerns and a real simplicity to them that appeals to people. It’s pretty black and white.”

Doesn’t Follow the Money

Elliott was never the sort of person to let money rule his life decisions as he never found joy in material things.

Doesn’t Follow the Money

“Don’t let that [money] be the number one priority because then that means you’ll do anything, for the right price…I hate that saying,” he said in an interview with DP/30.

One Major Flaw

Sam Elliott could speak for years about what a divine person his wife is. However, Katharine, like everyone else, has a serious flaw that Sam tries to support her with.

One Major Flaw

“She never wanted to chase it,” he said in an interview with DP/30. He means that even though she is not getting the parts she wanted, she doesn’t really try to change it.”

8 Years of Beef

Sam Elliott’s voice is one of the most desirable in the industry, but that wasn’t always the case. For many years, he did voiceover work for industrial commercials.

8 Years of Beef

In an interview with The Guardian, he said, “I did beef ads for about eight years because I love the people in that industry, and there are a lot of people who make their living in the beef world. Ranchers, primarily.”

Seeing Big Changes

Sam Elliott has worked in Hollywood for 50 years and has therefore seen a lot of changes.

Seeing Big Changes

“Changes that have been made in the technological world have revolutionized the movie business on almost every level,” he told The Guardian.

Living in the Moment

Elliott refuses to look back on his career choices wishing he had done things differently. He isn’t worried about leaving a legacy behind but is interested in connecting with his fellow humans.

Living in the Moment

“It’s about the people I’m working with at the time, and just going in and enjoying the process,” he told The Guardian. “It’s hard work, but it’s a creative, artistic process.”

Who Has the Better ‘Stache?

Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck became famous around the same time and played very similar characters. Another thing they have in common is their choice in facial hair.

Who Has the Better ‘Stache?

So, how does Elliot think Selleck’s compares to his? “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,” he told Vanity Fair.

‘A Star Is Born’

Sam Elliott recently finished shooting the film “A Star is Born.” The movie was directed by Bradley Cooper who also acts in the film along with Lady Gaga.

‘A Star Is Born’

In an interview with Business Insider, Elliott said “He’s [Cooper] super intelligent, has an incredible work ethic. And Stefani [Lady Gaga] is equally incredible.”