Will Sampson was born September 27, 1933 in Okmulgee, Oklahoma as a full-blooded Muscogee (Creek) Native American.
Sampson became a successful artist. His large painting depicting the Ribbon Dance of his Muscogee people is now showcased in the collection of the Creek Council House Museum in his hometown of Okmulgee.
Then the towering 6’7” tall Native American was spotted at an art show by an assistant to actor/producer Michael Douglas.
Douglas soon cast Sampson in the important role of enigmatic sanitarium inmate Chief Bromden for the 1976 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
That began a ten year acting career.
In 1977, Sampson appeared in Buffalo Bill and the Indians and then Outlaw Josey Wales with Clint Eastwood.
He went on to appear in a total of eleven films, including Orca, Fish Hawk, Poltergeist II and Firewalker.
In television, Sampson appeared on thirteen shows including his recurring role on the Robert Urich private eye series Vegas from 1978 – 1981.
Sampson also appeared in the production of Black Elk Speaks with the American Indian Theater Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In an interview in TV Ontario’s series Film 101, “Hollywood Asylum, Explored or Exploited?”, film actor Brad Dourif (who played Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) stated that Sampson had been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. After he was pardoned, after serving ten years, his release came without apology or compensation. Sampson reportedly observed the cast on set and noted, based on behavior, that only he and Dourif truly understood what it meant to be institutionalized.
After undergoing a heart and lung transplant, Will Sampson died on June 3, 1987 of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems at the age of 53.
Sampson was buried at Graves Creek Cemetery in Hitchita, Oklahoma.
Now WE know em