"Being an actor was what I always dreamed of doing, even as a small boy," Martin Sheen said. "I had no choice. I think if I hadn't been an actor, I would have been lost." That small boy, then known as Ramon Estevez, would later borrow bus fare from his parish priest and head for New York at 18, leaving behind the poverty of his childhood in Dayton, Ohio, to pursue his dream. Today, Sheen has more than realized that dream. When he went to New York he expected to quickly find work as an actor. He didn't. "I was a soda jerk, a messenger boy, I delivered newspapers. At times I was broke, got evicted, went hungry, even slept on the subway, but it never occurred to me that acting was not the way to go. I never looked back."
In 1961 he married a young Ohio art student studying in New York, Janet Templeton. A year later they had their first child, Emilio. The next year Ramon was born. Sheen supported his family by working in a car wash, occasionally getting roles on TV dramas and daytime soaps. At age 24 he got a major break with a role in the play "The Subject Was Roses" which brought him a Tony Award nomination. "It was the first time I actually made a sustained living as an actor."
In 1977, his life reached a turning point. In the Philippines, he was making Francis Ford Coppola's great Vietnam War epic, "Apocalypse Now", playing Captain Willard, the tormented soldier-turned-assassin. By then Sheen was a bankable Hollywood star, award-winning and in demand. He had money, fame, a beloved wife and, by now, four healthy kids. But despite what he had accomplished, his life fell into crisis.
"I was drinking heavily. I was confused about who I was and why I was here. I was doing this humongous film that had so much riding on it. I had gotten very low. I didn't feel any sense of control of personal worth. It was a period of despair." Then he suffered a heart attack and nearly died.
"I got very ill, but you couldn't separate the physical problems from the spiritual. After I got physically well, I realized how fragmented I had become. I was divided---that was the problem---and when that happens, you're going to dissolve. Something had to give, because I couldn't go on anymore. I didn't know the way back." Then he made a very clear and decisive choice to rejoin his faith and found himself again.
"Thereafter I began to focus on social justice and activism." In the 20 years since, Sheen has taken part in protests against racism, nuclear arms, war and homelessness, often at considerable personal costs. This June, after his 64th arrest, he was sentenced to three years' probation. At the same time, he has maintained a successful marriage and unusually close relationships with his children---bonds of trust that allowed him to effectively help his son Charlie, 36, fight drug addiction and, with his wife, to embrace as his own three grandchildren born out of wedlock---two to Emilio, one to Charlie.
"I've protested, calling attention to my country's dark spots, because I love America so much. I learned that, to keep your life from becoming self-contained and useless, you have to feel other people's pain and act to help them. That is what faith and love are about."
(The above is from Parade Magazine, December 2, 2001.)
Sheen has now lived with his wife in the same Malibu house for 32 years. Here, a short distance from the ocean, they raised three sons---actors Emilio Estevez, Ramon Estevez and Charlie Sheen---and a daughter, Renee.
"My parents had a very difficult life. They were both poor immigrants, my dad coming from Spain, my mother from Rural Ireland." Francisco Estevez and Mary Ann Phalen met in Dayton and got married and had 12 kids. Martin Sheen was the 7th boy. "My dad was a factory worker, a shy man with a sixth-grade education. There were so many of us, and he worked so hard and long that when he got home, he had little time to share with us. But he was proud of all of his kids, and I adored him. It was tough after Mother died in 1951. We each had to work to support ourselves. I was a caddy from the time I was 9 until I left home, carrying golf bags for wealthy people. That's how my social conscience was formed. The rich were my best teachers: I saw their inhumanity, selfishness, dishonesty, but I never saw a satisfied rich man. They were never happy with themselves. They always wanted more."
Lots of interesting lessons can be drawn from the life of Martin Sheen. See how many major lessons you can find!