Will Sampson

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Will Sampson
Born William Sampson Jr.
(1933-09-27)September 27, 1933
Okmulgee, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died June 3, 1987(1987-06-03) (aged 53)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Occupation painter, actor
Years active 1975–1987

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 "Worm" in the 1977 Charles Bronson western The White Buffalo, as well as 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) Native American Indian, was born in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma to William "Wiley" Sampson Sr. (August 13, 1904 – May 27, 2001) and Mabel Sampson (née Lewis, 1899–?)[1] Sampson is the father of Samsoche "Sam," Lumhe "Micco" Sampson of the Sampson Brothers Duo and Destiny Sampson.[2] They are known for their traditional fancy and grass dances, and often perform with Frank Waln, a notable Lakota hip-hop artist.

Rodeo performer

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.[3] 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.[4]


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.[1] 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 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.[5] 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 for him.


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
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


  1. ^ a b Actor Will Sampson to be Honored at Checotah Art Market; April 23, 2015; Cathy Spaulding, Phoenix Staff Writer; Muskogee Phoenix; retrieved November 2015
  2. ^ Sampson Brothers; official webpage; retrieved November 2015
  3. ^ "Will Sampson, 53, Portrayed An Indian in 'Cuckoo's Nest'"
  4. ^ Dick Kleiner, Will Sampson's Acting was Instinctive In 'Cuckoo's Nest' ; by Newspaper Enterprise Association; [in the Ocala Star-Banner ]; August 29, 1976.
  5. ^ 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.)

External links

  • Will Sampson on IMDb
  • Will Sampson interviews
  • Will Sampson: Documentary Ensures Actor is Remembered. The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society (AMMSA)
  • Will Sampson at Find a Grave
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