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|Born||Will (Sonny) Sampson
September 27, 1933
Okmulgee, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||June 3, 1987
Houston, Texas, U.S.
William "Will" Sampson, Jr. (September 27, 1933 – June 3, 1987) was a Native American painter, actor, and rodeo performer. He is best known for his performance as the apparent deaf and mute Native American Chief Bromden in the Academy Award winning film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, as well as for his role as Taylor in Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Ten Bears in the Clint Eastwood 1976 classic The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Life and career
William "Will" Sampson, Jr., also known by his childhood nickname, "Sonny," a full-blooded Muscogee (Creek), was born in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma to William "Wiley" Sampson, Sr. (1904–2001) and Mabel Sampson (née Lewis, 1899–?) Sampson is the father of Samsoche "Sam," Lumhe "Micco" Sampson of the Sampson Brothers Duo and Destiny Sampson. They are known for their traditional fancy and grass dances, and often perform with Frank Waln, a notable Lakota hip-hop artist.
Sampson competed in rodeos (his specialty being bronco busting), for about twenty years. He was on the rodeo circuit when producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas—of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest—were looking for a large Native American to play the role of Chief Bromden. Sampson stood an imposing 6'7" (2.01 m) tall. Rodeo announcer Mel Lambert mentioned Sampson to them, and after lengthy efforts to find him, hired him on the strength of an interview. He had never acted before.
Sampson's most notable roles were as "Chief Bromden" in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and as "Taylor the Medicine Man" in the horror film Poltergeist II. He had a recurring role on the TV series Vega$, as Harlon Twoleaf, and starred in the movies Fish Hawk, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Orca. Sampson appeared in the production of Black Elk Speaks with the American Indian Theater Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where David Carradine and other Native American actors (such as Wes Studi and Randolph Mantooth) have appeared in stage productions. He also played in The White Buffalo with Charles Bronson.
Sampson was an artist. His large painting depicting the Ribbon Dance of the Muscogee (Creek) is in the collection of the Creek Council House Museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. His artwork has been shown at the Gilcrease Museum and the Philbrook Museum of Art. In 1983 he founded and served on the board of directors of the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts.
Sampson suffered from scleroderma, a chronic degenerative condition that affected his heart, lungs, and skin. During his lengthy illness, his weight fell from 260 pounds to 140 pounds, causing complications related to malnutrition. After undergoing a heart and lung transplant at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, he died on June 3, 1987, of post-operative kidney failure. Sampson was 53 years old. Sampson was interred at Graves Creek Cemetery in Hitchita, Oklahoma.
|1975||Crazy Mama||Indian at Trading||Uncredited Role|
|One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest||Chief Bromden|
|1976||Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson||The Interpreter / William Halsey|
|The Outlaw Josey Wales||Ten Bears|
|1977||The White Buffalo||Crazy Horse / Worm|
|1978||Cowboysan||Indian Chief||Short film|
|1979||Fish Hawk||Fish Hawk|
|1986||Poltergeist II: The Other Side||Taylor|
|1977||Relentless||Sam Watchman||CBS TV-Movie|
|The Hunted Lady||Uncle George||NBC TV-Movie|
|1978||Standing Tall||Lonny Moon||NBC TV-Movie|
|1978–1979||Vega$||Harlon Two-Leaf||6 episodes|
|1979||From Here to Eternity||Sgt. Cheney||Not to be confused with the 1980 spinoff|
|1980||Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story||Clarence's Father||NBC TV-Movie|
|1982||Born to the Wind||Painted Bear|
|1983–1984||The Yellow Rose||John Strongheart||7 episodes|
|1984||The Mystic Warrior||Evan Freed||ABC Miniseries|
|1985||Wildside||Fake Sitting Bull||Episode: Buffalo Who?|
|Tall Tales & Legends||Chief||Episode: Johnny Appleseed|
|1987||The Gunfighters||Train Passenger||TV-Movie, (final film role)|
Awards and nominations
- 1980: Nominated, "Best Performance by a Foreign Actor" - Fish Hawk
- Actor Will Sampson to be Honored at Checotah Art Market; April 23, 2015; Cathy Spaulding, Phoenix Staff Writer; Muskogee Phoenix; retrieved November 2015
- Sampson Brothers; official webpage; retrieved November 2015
- "Will Sampson, 53, Portrayed An Indian in 'Cuckoo's Nest'"
- Dick Kleiner, Will Sampson's Acting was Instinctive In 'Cuckoo's Nest' ; by Newspaper Enterprise Association; [in the Ocala Star-Banner ]; August 29, 1976.
- Will Dies After Transplant Herald-Journal; June 4, 1987; retrieved November 5, 2012.
Escobar Zoe. Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest: the Art and Life of William Sonny Sampson... Seattle: Girl Dog Publ., 2009. (Ill.)