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


Sam Elliott is the hunky, western actor, with the deep southern drawl, who is drooled over by millions of women and is the center of jealousy by millions of men. However, there is so much more to Sam Elliott than just the cowboy actor. Here is the widely unknown life story of Sam Elliott.

Local Paper Boosted His Confidence

After graduating from David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon, Elliott went on to attend a two year program at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. While in school, he was casted as the lead in a production of Guys and Dolls. A local journalist attended the show, as well as followed up with a printed review. The journalist believed that Sam should become a professional actor. That was final push he needed to make that last step and move to Hollywood.


Worked In Construction While Auditioning

Most people do not make it big in Hollywood overnight. It is not nearly as glamorous as many people believe. Aspiring actors have to work hard to make ends meet, just like your average joe. Elliott was one of these people. In order to pay the bills, while attending auditions, 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 his childhood years in Oregon. His father worked for the U.S. Department of Interior (more specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Therefore, once could say he was an outdoors kind of guy. Sam decided he was going to be an actor from a young age. He announced this decision to his father when he was only 9-years-old. Elliott’s father was not happy about it and it caused a strain in their relationship.


His Father Died Before Reconciliation

Sam’s “outdoorsy” father had a hard time accepting his young son wanted to be a professional actor, as he didn’t not feel he could make a real living off of that. Sadly, Sam’s father died of a heart attack, when Sam was only 18-years-old. In an interview, Elliott said “He died thinking, ‘Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path’, and I think on some levels that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”

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Joined The Military

Construction wasn’t the only gig Elliott picked up as a side job. Elliott also joined the military. He joined the California Army National Guard (CAL ARNG). CAL ARNG’s mission is “to organize, train, equip, and resource community based land forces to support state and/or federal authority”. Certainly, his training in discipline and leadership helped him become the man everyone loves today.


First On Camera Gig

One of Elliott’s first on-camera gigs was a small role, but it was an important step in beginning his long career. In 1968, he played the role of Jack on an episode of the TV series “The Felony Squad”. The producers of the show would later give him two more small roles. He appeared on the show one more time in 1968 and the next time in 1969.


His Wife Was A Star Long Before Him

Small TV roles led to small movie roles. In 1969, Elliott portrayed ‘Card Player #2’ in the classic western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Little did he know at the time, but his future wife, also had a role in the film. However, his future wife, Katharine Ross had a much larger role in the film. She played the leading lady, Etta Place. Their romance, however, did not begin on this set, but rather a few years later.

butch cassidy

Small Roles Became The Norm

Despite landing a role in a blockbuster film, Sam Elliott was still only landing small roles in the late 1960s as well as early 1970s. He appeared on shows such as “Lancer”, “Land of the Giants”, “The F.B.I.”, and “Bracken’s World”. 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.


Begins His Rise To Stardom On TV

Although he was landing small roles in the early 1970s, but the mid-1970s, Sam Elliott began getting noticed by more and more casting directors. He began getting auditions for more prestigious roles as well as landing more parts. He had recurring roles on TV series “Mission: Impossible”, “Once an Eagle” and “Aspen.” He was even casted as the title character in the TV movie biopic, “Evel Kinevel”.

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‘The Legacy’ Leads To Love

After many small roles, Elliott was able to land his first leading role in a film. He played the lead male role of Pete Danner in the 1978 film “The Legacy”. The film wasn’t a blockbuster hit, nor did he win an Oscar. However, Elliott left with something even better, a girlfriend. Katharine Ross played opposite of Elliott in the film and there was an immediate spark between the two.


He Was Too Nervous To Approach Her

Katharine Ross was considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood at the time Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed and released. Therefore, any man would have been nervous to approach her. Elliott was no exception. 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).


Elliott Bares All For The Camera

“The Legacy” not only led to Katharine falling for Elliott but also women all over the country, especially after he showed his bare bottom during the film. “The Bare Facts” is a guide that lists nudity scenes in movies as well as gives a ranking to each scene. This guide said Elliott’s bottom was worth 3 stars – the highest ranking a scene can earn.

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What Was Katharine Attracted To?

Was it his deep voice, his rugged good looks, his gentleman charm or his mustache? What exactly attracted Katherine to Elliott? She was asked that question in an interview with Mercury News. Her response was “Probably all that and more. We were working together and one thing led to another. And here we are.”

sama nd katharine

Katharine Was Married When They Met

Katharine Ross had quite the interesting love life before she met Sam. She had been married 4 times previous to Sam. She was even still married to her fourth husband, Gaetano Lisi when she met Sam on the set of the “The Legacy”. Ross and Lisi finalized their divorce in 1979 allowing Elliott’s and Ross’s love to blossom.

tross and lisi

Didn’t Want To Be Known As A Sex Symbol

After Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott announced their romance to the public, the media and the public went crazy. They had to know more about the newly formed Hollywood couple. In 1976, the two sat down for an interview with Playgirl magazine. During the interview, Elliott said “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.”

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Replaced By James Brolin In A Movie

Elliott was casted in the political-drama film “The Ambush Murder”. The film follows an African-American man who is wrongfully imprisoned for killing 2 white policemen. The film follows his court case as well as the white lawyer who represents him. Elliott was casted as the lawyer. However, Elliott got very ill and was forced to drop from filming. Casting directors replaced Elliott with James Brolin.


Marriage To Katharine

After meeting on the set of “The Legacy”, Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott became inseparable. Their love grew strong and quickly. They two decided to wed in 1984. Their daughter, who they named Cleo Rose Elliott, was born the same year. Unfortunately, Cleo and her parents would later deal with many issues.


Honeymoon In Hawaii Was Interrupted

One of Elliott’s defining roles was as the biker boyfriend of Cher’s character in the movie “Mask”. That role almost did not happen for Elliott. Elliott received a call from his agent about the role while he was on his honeymoon with Katharine, in Hawaii. Elliott told his agent he would not leave his honeymoon early just to audition for the part. However, Katharine had other plans in mind.


Katharine Made Him Audition For ‘Mask’

Katharine did not allow Elliott to turn down the audition for “Mask”. After he told his agent he would not be leaving his honeymoon early, Katharine called the agent right back and said he would audition. Call it a newlywed’s instincts because Katharine knew this was an opportunity that Sam should not be turning down.


Always The Western Hero

Elliott was quickly gaining recognition for being an amazing cowboy actor. However, “Mask” helped show his serious side as well as his amazing acting abilities. Soon after the film was released, many casting directors came knocking on his door. He played the rugged cowboy in films such as The Quick and the Dead (1987), Houston: The Legend of Texas (1986), Tombstone (1993) and You Know My Name (1999). In 2007, he was even inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.


Attributes His Persona To His Dad

Although Elliott had lots of acting training as well as military discipline, he still attributes his persona to one person – his father. 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. 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.”


Didn’t Always Have That Voice

Sam Elliott is known as the man with “the voice”. However, what many don’t realize is, his baritone cords weren’t always there. If you compare his earlier roles to his more recent ones, the difference in his voice is obvious. During an interview with NPR, he was asked about his 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

In order to remain relevant in the Hollywood scene, sometimes actors take on roles they do not necessarily want to do. However, Sam never fell into that behavior. He always chose his roles wisely and only did the ones he really wanted to do. According to IMDB, Elliot said “I’m picky, very picky. I wanted to be an actor since I was nine years old and I figured that was only one way to ever have any longevity and that’s to be careful about what kind of work you do. You can work for money, do a lot of whatever comes your way and not have any kind of a yardstick to measure quality by, and people, you know you’ll make a lot of money if you’re lucky, and people will get fed up and sick of seeing you and that’s it onto the next one.”

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Originally Turned Down ‘Road House’

Elliott’s portrayal of Wade Garrett in “Road House” was another one of his iconic role. However, he originally turned down the film. But, this was due to the original role he was offered. The casting director sent him the script to look at the character of Brad Wesley. Elliott turned it down. But, when the script was brought back to him to read for a different role, he accepted the offer. Ben Gazzara was eventually chosen for the role of Brad Wesley.

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‘The Big Lebowski’

Although just a small role, Elliott’s character of ‘the stranger’ in “The Big Lewbowski” is one of his most well-known roles. It seemed as though the role was written for him, he portrayed it so well. In fact, it was actually written with Elliott in mind. 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, and then later on when he appears in the bowling alley, here’s this guy dressed like a drugstore cowboy, looking not unlike Sam Elliott. So I guess they wrote it for me. They certainly wrote it with me in mind.”


Daughter Threatens Katharine

In 2011, the Elliott family made headlines after news broke of a fight between Katherine and her daughter Cleo. Katharine claimed that her daughter stabbed her with a pair of scissors. 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.

elliott family

Restraining Order Dropped

The court case between Cleo and Katharine was schedule for a few months after the initial report was filed. However, neither showed up for the court date. Therefore, the presiding judge decided to drop the restraining order and throw out the case. Today, it seems as though the relationship between Cleo and her parents has been repaired. She is now a musician living in California.

sam and cleo

The Mustache

There are various traits that come to mind when one thinks of Sam Elliot – good looks, deep voice, and amazing mustache. The mustache, especially, has become a staple of Elliott’s looks. So many people love his ‘stache that he was even inducted into the inaugural class of the International Mustache Hall of Fame, in the category Film & Television. Other members of the category include Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck.

elliott and selleck

Has Family Ties To The Old West

Sam Elliott does such a good job of portraying the cowboy, that it should come as no surprise that he can actually trace his family history back to the old west. In an interview with Slate Magazine, he was asked about how he felt being always casted 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. I’ve got history to Texas… It is because of that I always hearken to [western roles], that family heritage.”

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He Can Do It All

Sam Elliott has proven himself time and time again on how amazing of an actor he is. But, acting isn’t the only role in the industry that he has tackled. He also has producing, writing and even singing credits to his name. 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’.

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Happy Wife, Happy Life

Sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you can find your prince. This was certainly the case with Katharine. She had been married 4 times before she married Sam. In an interivew with AARP, Elliott said although marriage is tough at times, it is important to work through the tough times together. “We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together,” he said. “You work past the s–t; you don’t walk away from it. That’s how relationships last.” They have now been married for 33 years (as of May 1, 2017).

elliott and ross

All He Wanted Was Movies & Marriage

Having such a long and happy marriage defies the Hollywood norm today. Many couple tend to not make it as long due to many different reasons. However, Katharine and Sam have truly defied the odds. 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.”

elliott and ross

Has Large Net Worth

With all the success Elliott has found in Hollywood, he has been able to build a large net worth. Not only does he make money from films, but also endorsement deals as well as owning several properties. His reported net worth is $16 million. That doesn’t include his wife’s net worth of $5 million.


Had A Secret Advantage In Hollywood

Sam Elliot was one of the last actors to be recruited by Fox Studios through the “studio system”. At Fox, he became friendly with the women in the law office. All scripts had to go through the law office before they went to casting directors. The women in the office allowed Elliott to read the scripts before they were sent off. Therefore, if Sam found a script he liked he could go find the casting director and ask to audition for a role the casting director hadn’t even been given yet.

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Voices Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear was created in order to warn U.S. citizens about the risk of forest fires and how they can be prevented. The American Ad Council, along with the U.S. Forest Service, has designed the character to make him friendly and “approachable”. When the character was redesigned in 2008, the designers knew exactly who they wanted to voice their character. Sam Elliott was chosen and he still remains the voice of Smokey bear today.

smokey bear

He Strives To Be A Better Actor

There is an old saying – “you are your toughest critic.” Actors, including Sam Elliott, are no exception. 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.'”


Always Gives His Creative Input

Sam was always picky about the roles he chose. However, it wasn’t just the roles he was picky about. If he did not feel something was being done correctly on a film, he had no problem giving his input. He commonly disagreed with directors and even rewrote screen plays. In an interview with Off Camera with Sam Jones, Elliot said “I’d rather be a pain in the a– and make better art,” than “roll over for it.”


He Has Embraced Westerns

Sam Elliott clearly has the talent to portray many different types of characters. However, he seems to fit the cowboy, western mold best. According to, 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.”


Did It All To Make His Dad Proud

Although Sam and his father disagreed on his chosen career path, Sam believes a lot of his character came from his father. Elliott said during an interview on Off Camera with Sam Jones, “I wanted him to be proud of me. Thats the worst part of it. When you don’t think your dad’s proud of you – I knew he was in other areas. You know, I could catch more trout than he or any of his friends. He was proud of that… I don’t think he got the theatre arts.”

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New Roles

Katharine and Sam have recently stepped back into the Hollywood limelight with several new endeavors. Sam starred on the Netflix series “The Ranch” alongside actor Ashton Kutcher. The youngster certainly did not outshine Elliott. In 2017, Katharine and Sam appeared again on screen together in the film “The Hero.” Sam has also been selected to star in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born”, as Bobby.

the ranch

Favorite Role

With so many iconic roles one would believe that Sam had a hard time choosing which was his favorite. During an interview with BUILD, Elliott was asked about this. Instead of giving a role he discussed how the cast and crew are more important. He enjoyed working most with the cast and crew of “The 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.”

the hero

‘The Hero’ Was Written For Sam

“The Hero” joined the ranks of many people’s favorite Sam Elliott films after it was released. Elliott played the lead role of Lee Hayden so flawlessly. This may have been due to the fact that the director, Brett Haley, wrote the screen play knowing Elliott could possibly play the role. During an interview with NPR, Elliott said, “I was totally flattered that he [Haley] and Marc would take the time to write an entire screenplay for me. I’ve had a few parts written for me over the years, but I’ve never had a screenplay written for me.”