Will Sampson: Native American painter, actor, and rodeo performer (born: 1933 - died: 1987) | Biography
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Will Sampson
Native American painter, actor, and rodeo performer

Will Sampson

Will Sampson
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Native American painter, actor, and rodeo performer
Was Actor Painter Film actor Television actor Artist
From United States of America
Field Arts Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 27 September 1933, Okmulgee, Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, USA
Death 3 June 1987, Houston, Harris County, Texas, USA (aged 53 years)
Star sign Libra
Height: 1.9558 m
The details (from wikipedia)


William Sampson Jr. (September 27, 1933 – June 3, 1987) was a Muscogee painter, actor, and rodeo performer. He is best known for his performance as the apparent deaf and mute Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and as Crazy Horse in the 1977 western The White Buffalo, as well as his roles as Taylor in Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Ten Bears in 1976's The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Life and career

William "Will" Sampson Jr., also known by his childhood nickname "Sonny," a Muscogee Indian, was born in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma to William "Wiley" Sampson Sr. (1904–2001) and Mabel Sampson (née Lewis, 1899–1997). Sampson Jr. had at least five children: Samsoche "Sam" and Lumhe "Micco" Sampson (of the Sampson Brothers Duo), actor Timothy "Tim" James Sampson, Robert Benjamin Sampson. The Sampson Brothers Duo are known for their traditional fancy and grass dances, and often perform with Frank Waln, a notable Lakota hip-hop artist. His son Robert was murdered in Tulsa in 2013. Timothy "Tim" Sampson died in 2019.

Rodeo performer

Sampson competed in rodeos for about 20 years. His specialty was bronco busting, and 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, they 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 Crazy Horse in The White Buffalo with Charles Bronson.

Buffalo Kill by Will Sampson


Sampson was a visual 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.


Sampson suffered from scleroderma, a chronic degenerative condition that affected his heart, lungs, and skin. During his lengthy illness, his weight fell from 260 lb (120 kg) to 140 lb (64 kg), 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.


Will Sampson Road, in Okmulgee County (east of Highway 75 near Preston, Oklahoma), is named after him.

During the filming of The White Buffalo, Sampson halted production by refusing to act when he discovered that producers had hired white actors to portray Native Americans for the film. In 1983, with assistance from his personal secretary Zoe Escobar, Sampson founded the "American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts" for Native American actors. He also served on the registry's Board of Directors.


Year Film Role Other notes
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
Orca Umilak
1978 Cowboysan Indian Chief Short film
1979 Fish Hawk Fish Hawk
1985 Insignificance Elevator Attendant
1986 Poltergeist II: The Other Side Taylor
Firewalker Tall Eagle
Year Title Role Notes
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
1982 The Great Spirit within The Hole Narrator Twin Cities Public Television PBS
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?
1986 Roanoak Wingina Miniseries
Tall Tales & Legends Chief Episode: Johnny Appleseed
1987 The Gunfighters Train Passenger TV-Movie, (final film role)

Awards and nominations

  • Genie Award 1980: Nominated, "Best Performance by a Foreign Actor" – Fish Hawk


  • Escobar, Zoe (2011). Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest: the Art and Life of William Sampson, Jr. GirlDog Publishing
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 26 Nov 2021. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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