In film, Sheen has won the Best Actor award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival for his performance as Kit Carruthers in Badlands. Sheen's 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, including Richard Attenborough, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, David Cronenberg, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Oliver Stone. Sheen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989. In television, Sheen has won 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 by 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—aka Charlie Sheen—and Renée), all of whom are actors.
Sheen was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Mary-Ann (née Phelan; 1903–1951) and Francisco Estévez Martínez (1898–1974). During birth, Sheen's left arm was crushed by forceps, giving him limited lateral movement of that arm, which is three inches (7.6 cm) shorter than his right (Erb's palsy). Both of Sheen's parents were immigrants; his mother from Borrisokane, County Tipperary, Ireland; and his father was born in Salceda de Caselas, Galicia, Spain. After moving to Dayton in the 1930s, his father was a factory worker/machinery inspector at the National Cash Register Company. Sheen grew up on Brown Street in the South Park neighborhood, one of ten children (nine boys and a girl). Due to his father's work, the family lived in Bermuda on St. John's Road, Pembroke, where five of his brothers were born. Martin was the first child to be born in Dayton, Ohio, after the family returned from Bermuda. Sheen contracted polio as a child and had to remain bedridden for a year. His doctor's treatment using Sister Kenny's method helped him regain use of his legs.
When he was eleven years old, Sheen's mother died, and the children faced the possibility of living in an orphanage or foster homes. The family was able to remain together with the assistance of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dayton. Raised as a Catholic, he graduated from Chaminade High School (now Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School). At fourteen years, he organized a strike of golf caddies while working at a private golf club in Dayton, Ohio. He complained about the golfers: "They often used obscene language in front of us... we were little boys and they were abusive... anti-Semitic.... And they, for the most part, were upstanding members of the community."
Sheen was drawn to acting at a young age, but his father disapproved of his interest in the field. Despite his father's opposition, Sheen borrowed money from a Catholic priest and moved to New York City in his early twenties, hoping to make it as an actor. He spent two years in the Living Theatre company. It was in New York that he met the legendary Catholic activist Dorothy Day. Working with her Catholic Worker Movement, he began his commitment to social justice, and would one day go on to play Peter Maurin, cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement, in Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story. Sheen deliberately failed the entrance examination for the University of Dayton so that he could pursue his acting career.
He adopted his stage name, Martin Sheen, from a combination of the CBS casting director, Robert Dale Martin, who gave him his first big break, and the televangelist archbishop, Fulton J. Sheen. In a 2003 Inside the Actors Studio interview, Sheen explained,
Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I'd get there, it was always gone. So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen. It's still Estevez officially. I never changed it officially. I never will. It's on my driver's license and passport and everything. I started using Sheen, I thought I'd give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn't keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad.
Sheen was greatly influenced by the actor James Dean. He developed a theatre company with other actors in hopes that a production would earn him recognition. In 1963, he made an appearance in Nightmare, an episode of the television science fiction series The Outer Limits. In 1964, he co-starred in the Broadway play The Subject Was Roses; he later reprised his role in the 1968 film of the same name, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. Sheen also starred in the television production Ten Blocks on the Camino Real (1966), an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play Camino Real directed by Jack Landau and presented by NET, a PBS predecessor.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Sheen honed his skills as a guest star on a number of popular television series, including My Three Sons (1964), Flipper (1967), The F.B.I. (1968), Mission: Impossible (1969), Hawaii Five-O (1970), Dan August (1971), The Rookies (1973), Columbo (1973), and The Streets of San Francisco (1973). He also had a recurring role as "Danny Morgan" on Mod Squad (1970–1971). By the early 1970s, Sheen was increasingly focusing on television films and motion pictures.
Sheen portrayed Dobbs in the 1970 film adaptation of Catch-22. He then co-starred in the controversial Emmy Award-winning 1972 television film That Certain Summer, said to be the first television movie in America to portray homosexuality in a sympathetic light. His next important feature film role was in 1973, when he starred with Sissy Spacek in the crime drama Badlands, playing an antisocial multiple murderer. Sheen has stated that his role in Badlands was one of his two favorites, the other being his role as a U.S. Army special operations officer in Apocalypse Now. Also in 1973, Sheen appeared opposite David Janssen in "Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On", the first pilot for the television series Harry O.
In 1974, Sheen portrayed a hot rod driver in the television movie The California Kid, and that same year received an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor in a television drama for his portrayal of Pvt. Eddie Slovik in the television film The Execution of Private Slovik. Based on an incident that occurred during World War II, the film told the story of the only U.S. soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War.
Sheen's performance led to Francis Ford Coppola's casting him in a lead role as U.S. Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard in 1979's Apocalypse Now, gaining him wide recognition. Filming in the Philippine jungle in the typhoon season of 1976, Sheen admitted he was not in great shape and was drinking heavily. For the film’s legendary opening sequence in a Saigon hotel room, Sheen's portrayal of Willard as heavily intoxicated was aided by Sheen's celebrating his 36th birthday on-set that day, and being actually drunk. Twelve months into filming, Sheen suffered a minor heart attack and he had to crawl out to a road for help. While recovering, his younger brother Joe Estevez stood in for him in a number of long shots and in some of the voice-overs. Sheen was able to resume filming a few weeks later.
Sheen has played U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the miniseries Kennedy; Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in the television special The Missiles of October; White House Chief of Staff A.J. McInnerney in The American President; White House Counsel John Dean in the Television mini-series Blind Ambition; sinister future president Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone; the President in the Lori Loughlin-Chris Noth television mini-series, Medusa's Child; and fictional Democratic president Josiah "Jed" Bartlet in the acclaimed television drama, The West Wing.
In November 2010, Sheen was cast as Uncle Ben in Sony's 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man film series, The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb.
Sheen has performed voice-over work as the narrator for the Eyewitness series and as the "real" Seymour Skinner in the controversial Simpsons episode "The Principal and the Pauper." In addition, he played the role of the Illusive Man in the highly acclaimed video game Mass Effect 2, and the sequel, Mass Effect 3. Martin Sheen is also the host of In Focus, a television program whose Facebook page claims airs on PBS affiliate stations on Public Television, but in fact does not, according to the company's spokesperson, as reported in the Washington Post on December 27, 2012.
In 2009, Sheen travelled to Mexico City to star in Chamaco with Kirk Harris, Alex Perea, Gustavo Sanchez Parra and Michael Madsen. In 2010, he filmed Stella Days in County Tipperary, Ireland, near the birthplace of his mother. Thaddeus O'Sullivan directed and Irish actor Stephen Rea also starred.
Sheen appeared in Martin Scorsese's The Departed as Captain Oliver Queenan, a commanding officer who is watching an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio). Martin Sheen and son Ramon Estevez combined both their real and stage names to create the Warner Bros.-affiliated company, Estevez Sheen Productions. The company’s latest film is The Way, written and directed by Sheen's son Emilio Estevez who also stars in the film as Martin’s on-screen son, who dies while hiking the Camino de Santiago. His daughter, Renée, also has a part in the film. Driven by sadness, Martin’s character, an American doctor, leaves his Californian life and embarks on the 800-km pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela himself, with his son’s ashes. The Way premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.
Sheen appeared in the Irish Film Stella Days directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan, along with IFTA award-winning actress Amy Huberman. Sheen plays parish priest Daniel Barry, whose love of movies leads him to help set up a cinema in Borrisokane. Sheen plays a starring role in Netflix's Grace and Frankie (2015–present).
In 2010, 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 opposes abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and war. He articulated this view further in an interview with The Progressive: "I'm inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally against the death penalty or war." He also stated at the same occasion: "I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I could never face the actual reality of it." 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 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.
In 2015, it was announced that Sheen narrated the trailer for a proposed documentary film about the controversial prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.
Sheen married Janet Templeton on December 23, 1961, and they have four children, three sons and a daughter, all of whom are actors: Emilio, Ramón, Carlos, and Renée. Carlos, however, decided to change his name when he began acting, calling himself Charlie Sheen after making the decision to Anglicize his first name and take his surname from his father's stage name.
Charlie and his father jointly parodied their respective previous roles in the 1993 movie Hot Shots! Part Deux when their river patrol boats passed each other, at which point they both shouted, "I loved you in Wall Street!" a film they both starred in as father and son in 1987.
He has played the father of sons Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen in various projects: he played Emilio's father in The War at Home, In the Custody of Strangers and The Way, and Charlie's father in Wall Street, No Code of Conduct, two episodes of Spin City, and Anger Management. He also appeared as a guest star in one episode of Two and a Half Men playing the father of Charlie's neighbor Rose (Melanie Lynskey), and another as guest star Denise Richards's father; at the time that episode aired, Richards was still married to Charlie. Martin also played a "future" version of Charlie in a VISA TV commercial. Martin has played other characters with his children. He starred in the film Bobby, which was directed by Emilio, who also starred in the movie alongside his father. Renée had a supporting role in The West Wing, as one of President Josiah Bartlet's (Sheen) secretaries. Emilio also appeared, uncredited, in an episode of The West Wing portraying his father's character, President Bartlet, in home movie footage.
Sheen became a grandfather at age 43 when his son Emilio had a son named Taylor Levi with his girlfriend, Carey Salley. Sheen has a total of ten grandchildren, the other nine being: Paloma Rae (from Emilio), Cassandra, Sam J, Lola Rose, Bob and Max (from Charlie) and Katherine, Luis Jr. and Christopher (from Ramón) and one great-granddaughter Luna (from Cassandra).
He celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary in 2011.
In 2012, Sheen was a guest on the U.S. version of Who Do You Think You Are?, tracing his Irish and Spanish ancestry.
He underwent a quadruple heart bypass operation in December 2015.
After the end of filming of The West Wing, Sheen announced plans to further his education: "My plan is to read English literature, philosophy and theology in Galway, Ireland, where my late mother came from and where I'm also a citizen." Speaking after an honorary arts doctorate was conferred on him by the National University of Ireland, Sheen joked that he would be the "oldest undergraduate" at the National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway, when he started his full-time studies there in the autumn of 2006. Although expressing concern that he might be a "distraction" to other students at NUIG, he attended lectures like everyone else. Speaking the week after filming his last episode of The West Wing, he said, "I'm very serious about it." He once said, "I never went to college when I was young and am looking forward to giving it a try... at age 65!" On September 1, 2006, Sheen was among the first to register as a student at NUI Galway. He left the University after completing a semester.
Sheen maintains links with Galway and "heartily" supported Michael D. Higgins in the Irish presidential election, 2011, having become a "dear friend" of Higgins while studying there.
In a speech at Oxford University in 2009, Sheen stated that he had been arrested 66 times for protesting and acts of civil disobedience. He was described by human rights activist Craig Kielburger as having "a rap sheet almost as long as his list of film credits."
On April 1, 2007, Sheen was arrested, with 38 other activists, for trespassing at the Nevada Test Site at a Nevada Desert Experience event protesting against the site.
He has a long association with Sea Shepherd and that conservation organisation has named a ship, the RV Martin Sheen to recognise his commitment and support.
Sheen is Catholic, having had his faith restored during conversations in Paris in 1981 with Terrence Malick, director of Sheen’s breakthrough film, Badlands (1973). He is a supporter of the Catholic Worker movement. Despite being a Catholic, he supports same-sex marriage although the Catholic Church does not.
In a 2011 interview with RTÉ, Sheen stated that his wife was conceived through rape, and if her mother aborted her, or dumped her in the Ohio River as she had considered, his wife would not exist. He also disclosed that three of his grandchildren were conceived out of wedlock, saying his sons "were not happy at the time but they came to love these children. We have three grown grandchildren, two of them are married, they're some of the greatest source [sic] of joy in our lives." He has also stated his empathy for women facing unexpected pregnancy, and that he didn't oppose their right to abortion:
I cannot make a choice for a woman, particularly a black or brown or poor pregnant woman. I would not make a judgment in the case. As a father and a grandfather, I have had experience with children who don't always come when they are planned, and I have experienced the great joy of God's presence in my children, so I'm inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally against the death penalty or war – anywhere people are sacrificed for some end justifying a means. I don't think abortion is a good idea. I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I could never face the actual reality of it.
In a 2011 interview given to Catholic World Report he said that he considered himself to be pro-life:
It’s a matter of record with me. It’s a part of my faith. I’m a father, you know. When three of our grandchildren were young, a long time ago—I became a grandfather at age 42—and we didn’t have any in-laws, we supported these children who had come into our lives. We didn’t consider them any less welcome or ourselves any less blessed. That’s who we are. We know what a child can bring, no matter the circumstances. So [being pro-life] is both natural for us and a practical acceptance. My wife is not Catholic, but she is very pro-life. She’s a mother and a grandmother. She knows what it means. There’s just never any question—ever.
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. On May 3, 2015 Sheen received an honorary degree Doctor of Human Letters from the University of Dayton for his lifelong commitment to peace, social justice and human rights exemplifying the Catholic, Marianist university's missions.
First appearing on A Prairie Home Companion on November 11, 2004, Sheen has since become a frequent guest performer, with over a dozen episodes since 2007.2004: November 11
2007: June 9, September 29
2008: June 7
2009: June 6, December 12
2010: January 2
2011: March 12
2012: March 17, May 19, July 14
2013: June 8