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September 27, 1933
Okmulgee, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||June 3, 1987
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Life and career
Sampson, a Native American Muscogee (Creek), was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and was an imposing 6' 5" (1.96 m) tall. 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 like Wes Studi and Randolph Mantooth starred in stage productions.
Sampson competed in rodeos, his speciality riding bucking broncos, for about twenty years. He was on the rodeo circuit when the producers of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas, were looking for a large Native American to play the role of Chief Bromden. Rodeo announcer Mel Lambert told them about Sampson, and after lengthy efforts to find him, they hired him on the strength of an interview. He had never acted before.
Sampson was also an artist. His large painting depicting the Ribbon Dance of his Muscogee people is in the collection of the Creek Council House Museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. His artwork is currently displayed online by The Kvskvnv (“kuskuna”) Association.
In 1983 he founded and served on the board of directors of the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts.
He is the father of Sam and Lumhe "Micco" Sampson of the Sampson Brothers duo. They are well known for their traditional fancy and grass dances, and often perform with Frank Waln, a notable Lakota hip-hop artist. There is a road named after him near where he grew up east of Highway 75 near Preston, Oklahoma in Okmulgee County called Will Sampson Road respectively.
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 a malnutrition problem. 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 and pre-operative malnutrition problems. Sampson was 53 years old. He 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||Cowboysan||Indian Chief||Short film|
|The White Buffalo||Crazy Horse/Worm|
|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 White 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|
Awards and nominations
- 1980: Nominated, "Best Performance by a Foreign Actor" - Fish Hawk
- Dick Kleiner, "Will Sampson's Acting Was Instinctive In 'Cuckoo's Nest', Newspaper Enterprise Association in Ocala Star-Banner, August 29, 1976.
- "Will Dies After Transplant." Herald-Journal. 4 June 1987. Retrieved 5 Nov 2012.
- Will Sampson at the Internet Movie Database
- Beyond Cuckoo's Nest
- The Kvskvnv Association
- Will Sampson interviews
- Will Sampson: Documentary ensures actor is remembered. The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society (AMMSA)
- Will Sampson at Find a Grave
- In Loving Memory Of Will Sampson
- Greatest Native American, #173