The Works of Will Sampson

A tip of the hat today to Native American actor and rodeo star Will Sampson (1933-87).

Samson was a full-blooded Muscogee, who stood 6’7″ — approaching giant proportions. Originally from Okmulgee, Oklahoma, he spent the first 20 years of his career (1950s-1970s) busting broncs on the rodeo circuit. His impressive size eventually brought him to the attention of movie producers. Technically, his first movie part was a walk-on in the early Jonathan Demme film Crazy Mama (1975) starring Cloris Leachman, but his central role as the (ostensibly) deaf mute Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is what put him on the map.

So striking was he as the Chief that it often forgotten that it was hardly a one-off. For the next dozen years, the remainder of his life in fact he worked contantly in high profile films and television projects. His subsequent movies included Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976), Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), the Charles Bronson western White Buffalo (1977), the (admittedly silly) silly Jaws knock-off Orca (1977), Fish Hawk (1979, in which he starred), Firewalker (1986), and of course Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). On TV he had recurring roles on Vega$ (1978-79) and The Yellow Rose (1983-84), and regular roles on the series and mini-series Born to the Wind (1982), The Mystic Warrior (1984) and Roanoke (1986). He also had supporting roles in a half dozen TV movies, and guest starred and shows like Tall Tales and Legends.

Like many actors and musicians, Sampson painted in his spare time. Unlike many of them, Sampson’s were quite good. At least I like them and find them quite distinctive. He painted western themes almost exclusively. Several are easily found with a quick google search.

Towards the end of his life, Sampson suffered from scheroderma, which affected his heart and lungs. He died following transplant surgery at the age of 53.