From lifeguards to cowboys to a grizzled barroom bouncer guru, Sam Elliott always seems to have worn the proverbial white hat. His distinctive scratchy baritone is the epitome of the cowboy mythos, and his rugged features helped him land a career of roles playing those quintessential American heroes.
Sam Elliott – The Iconic Hero
Elliott has played an Earp brother and a Sackett brother, one the fictionalized version of a real-life Wild West lawman, and the other a fictional pioneer based on very real people who tamed the West. He’s been a superstar and a household name for decades, but he sure didn’t start out that way.
Sam Elliott began his career as did most actors in the 60s, as a bit player doing contract work for the studios in a system on its way out. He made $85 a week from 20th Century Fox, according to a recent article in the Associated Press. He lived in a tiny apartment near the studio and did all he could to eat up the screen in his limited camera time. He worked alongside certified Hollywood powerhouses like Jimmy Stewart and William Holden, as well as cowboy stars Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson.
Through his career, Elliott amassed 98 film credits, beginning with a TV series in 1968 and then parlaying that into regular work doing one-shots on popular TV shows and made for TV movies. He even played daredevil Evel Knievel in the TV movie of the same name. Elliott’s big break came not as a cowboy, but as the title character in the movie, Lifeguard in 1976.
From there it was more TV, including two turns as Tell Sackett in made for TV movies based on the Louis L’Amour novels. He also played hard-bitten, world-weary salvage consultant in a 1983 TV movie, following that up two years later with another TV movie, Mask. He continued to work, mostly in TV, though the 80s and 90s, though Elliott did have three big screen star turns: first in the Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House and then in the epic Civil War movie, Gettysburg, before playing Virgil Earp in Tombstone.
Over and over again, whether it was Caretaker in Ghost Rider, Sgt Maj. Plumley in We Were Soldiers or Gen. Buford in Gettysburg, Elliott played the reluctant, stalwart hero was willing to give his life to do his duty. There were a few face turns as the bad guy. Once as Ross in the Hulk and then as the sinister Avery Markham in TVs Justified.
Curtain Call for Elliott
Now, though, after 50 years in the business as one of Hollywood’s hardest working men, Sam Elliott is, finally, getting a movie tailor-made for him. Fittingly, it’s simply called, Hero. As you might expect, Elliott plays a former Western actor who just isn’t getting roles like he once did. His family relationships are estranged, and he finds little to do with his time but bum around with his buddies. Then, the doctors call. It’s cancer … and that’s the hook that sets up the film Sam Elliott says, having done, he could retire happy. A half-century of sustained stardom, and he’s finally getting one just for him. Elliott’s fans are saying it’s about time.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.