Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez (born August 3, 1940), better known by his stage name Martin Sheen, is an American actor who achieved fame with roles in the films like Badlands (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979) and the alternate history, 1980 science fiction film, The Final Countdown. Since then, Sheen is better-known for films like Gettysburg (1993), The Departed (2006) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). He also starred on the television series The West Wing (1999–2006) as President Josiah Bartlet, and lent his voice as the Illusive Man in the Mass Effect video game trilogy.
He is considered one of the best actors never to have been nominated for an Academy Award. In film he has won the Best Actor award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival for his performance as Kit Carruthers in Badlands. His portrayal of Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now earned a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. Sheen has worked with a wide variety of film directors, such as Richard Attenborough, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, David Cronenberg, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Oliver Stone. He has had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame since 1989. In television he has won both a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild awards for playing the role of President Josiah Bartlet in The West Wing, and an Emmy for guest starring in the sitcom Murphy Brown.
Born and raised in the United States from immigrant parents, he adopted the stage name Martin Sheen to help him gain acting parts. He is the father of four children (Emilio, Ramón, Carlos (better known as Charlie Sheen), and Renée), all of whom are actors, as is his younger brother Joe Estevez. Although known as an actor, Sheen has also directed one film, Cadence (1990), appearing alongside sons Charlie and Ramón. He has also narrated, produced and directed in documentary television, earning two Daytime Emmy awards in the 1980s. In addition to film and television, Sheen has also been active in liberal politics.
In 2010, Martin Sheen first spoke to 18,000 young student activists at Free The Children’s “We Day,” explaining “While acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive.”
Although he did not attend college, Sheen credited the Marianists at University of Dayton as a major influence on his public activism, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Sheen is known for his outspoken support of liberal political causes, such as opposition to United States military actions and a hazardous-waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio. Sheen has resisted calls to run for office, saying: “There’s no way that I could be the president. You can’t have a pacifist in the White House . . . I’m an actor. This is what I do for a living.” Sheen is an honorary trustee of the Dayton International Peace Museum.
He supported the 1965 farm worker movement with Cesar Chavez in Delano, California. He is a proponent of the Consistent life ethic, which advocates against abortion, capital punishment and war. He also supports the Democrats for Life of America’s Pregnant Women Support Act. In 2004 along with Rob Reiner, Sheen campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, and later campaigned for nominee John Kerry.
On May 16, 1995, Martin Sheen and Paul Watson from the non-profit environmental organization Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, were confronted by a number of Canadian sealers in a hotel on Magdalen Islands over Sea Shepherd’s history of attacks on sealing and whaling ships. Sheen negotiated with the sealers while Watson was escorted to the airport by police. In 2000, Sheen got involved in support of gun control after the National Shooting Sports Foundation hired his politically conservative brother, actor Joe Estevez who sounds like Sheen, to do a voice over for a pro-gunmaker commercial earlier in the year. In early 2003 Sheen signed the “Not in My Name” declaration opposing the invasion of Iraq (along with prominent figures such as Noam Chomsky and Susan Sarandon); the declaration appeared in the magazine The Nation. On August 28, 2005, he visited anti-Iraq War activist Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey. He prayed with her and spoke to her supporters. He began his remarks by stating, “At least you’ve got the acting president of the United States,” referring to his role as fictional president Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing. Cindy Sheehan had been demanding a second meeting with the President, George W. Bush.
Sheen endorsed marches and walkouts called by the civil rights group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) to force the state of California to honor the Cesar Chavez holiday. On the day of the protests (March 30), thousands of students, primarily Latino from California and elsewhere, walked out of school in support of the demand. Sheen also stated that he participated in the large-scale immigration marches in Los Angeles in 2006 and 2007.
On April 10, 2006, the New York Times reported that members of the Democratic Party in Ohio had contacted Sheen, attempting to persuade him to run for the United States Senate in Ohio. Sheen declined the offer, stating, “I’m just not qualified. You’re mistaking celebrity for credibility.” On November 26, 2006, the Sunday Times in the Republic of Ireland, where Sheen was then living as a result of his enrolment in NUI Galway, reported on his speaking out against mushroom farmers exploiting foreign workers by paying them as little as €2.50 an hour in a country where the minimum wage was €7.65.
Sheen’s latest activism includes attendances at meetings of the environmentalist group Earth First! and speaking appearances at youth empowerment events called We Day on behalf of Free The Children, an international charity and educational partner. Sheen has been named an ambassador of Free The Children and has supported such initiatives as the We are Silent campaign, a 24-hour pledge of silence. Speaking about his work with Free The Children, Sheen has said, “I’m hooked! I told them whenever I could offer some insight or energy or whatever I had, I’d be delighted if they would call on me, and they have.”
Sheen has also endorsed and supported Help Darfur Now, a student-run organization to help aid victims of the genocide in Darfur, the western region in Sudan. He also appears in the recent anti-fur documentary “Skin Trade.”
Sheen has appeared in television and radio ads urging Washington State residents to vote ‘no’ on Initiative 1000, a proposed assisted suicide law before voters in the 2008 election.
Sheen initially endorsed New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, and helped raise funds for his campaign. After Richardson dropped out of the campaign, Sheen stated in a BBC Two interview with Graham Norton that he was supporting Barack Obama.
In March 2012, Sheen was featured with George Clooney in a performance of Dustin Lance Black’s play, ‘8’ — a staged reenactment of the federal trial that overturned California’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage — as attorney Theodore Olson. The production was held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and broadcast on YouTube to raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
In September 2012, Sheen reunited with the cast of The West Wing to produce a video tasked with explaining Michigan’s ballot and its partisan and nonpartisan sections. The video doubled as a campaign ad for Bridget McCormack, who was running as a nonpartisan candidate for Michigan’s Supreme Court.
Awards and Honors
In the spring of 1989, Sheen was named honorary mayor of Malibu, California. He promptly marked his appointment with a decree proclaiming the area “a nuclear-free zone, a sanctuary for aliens and the homeless, and a protected environment for all life, wild and tame”. Some local citizens were angered by the decree, and the Malibu Chamber of Commerce met in June of that year to consider revoking his title, but voted unanimously to retain him.
While Sheen claims he deliberately failed the entrance exam for the University of Dayton so that he could pursue his acting career, he still has an affinity for UD, and is seen drinking from a “Dayton Flyers” coffee mug during several episodes of The West Wing. Sheen also developed an ongoing relationship with Wright State University, where he performed Love Letters as a benefit for scholarships in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, and hosted a trip of donors to the set of The West Wing with the department’s chair, W. Stuart McDowell, in September 2001. The Sheen/Estevez & Augsburger Scholarship Fund has since attracted over $100,000 in scholarships in the arts for students in need at WSU since its inception in 2000. Sheen also has a great affinity for the University of Notre Dame and in 2008 was awarded the Laetare Medal, the highest honor bestowed on American Catholics, in May 2008 at the school’s commencement.
Sheen received six Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his performance on The West Wing, for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in TV-Drama, as well as two SAG Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, and was part of the cast that received two SAG Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
In his acting career, Sheen has been nominated for ten Emmy Awards, winning one. He has also earned eight nominations for Golden Globe Awards. Sheen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1500 Vine Street.
In 2001 Sheen won a TV Guide Award for ‘Actor of the Year in a Drama Series’ for The West Wing. In the animated Nickelodeon movie, TV show and TV spin-off of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, there is a character named Sheen Estevez, which is Sheen’s original last name – Estévez – and working last name, Sheen.
Sheen was the 2003 recipient of the Marquette University Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa for his work on social and Catholic issues. In 2011, he was awarded an honorary life membership in the Law Society of University College Dublin.