The Tragic Truth About Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen is one of the biggest names in Hollywood, with a career spanning over 60 years. That doesnt' mean it was easy for him to reach his success. Born Ramón Antonio Gerard Estevez, he got his foot in the acting world with a show in Dayton, Ohio, called "The Rising Generation," per the Dayton Daily News. As Sheen explained to the paper in 1964, "[There] was a wonderful man sponsoring that show: Calvin Mayne, who put on the program for his Dorothy Lane supermarket. Out of the show, and through him, I won an audition for CBS in New York."

Sheen went on to star in hit movies such as "Apocalypse Now" and "The Departed," as well as the award-winning show "West Wing." His road to fame didn't come without its difficulties. For one thing, he wasn't born into an acting family, so he had to build his career from the bottom up. In an interview with Brad Carr, Sheen opened up about being raised by his father alone after his mother died when he was young. His dad had to raise ten kids as a factory worker. "He was my first hero because he was a scrupulously honest man," the actor said. Sadly, his relationship with his father suffered after he decided to pursue acting.

Martin Sheen regrets disappointing his father

Martin Sheen always knew he wanted to be an actor. His father, who came to the United States from Spain, wanted another life for his son. "My father was very practical. He was a factory worker for most of his adult life, and he wanted me to go to college and improve my chances of making a better living than he did. We had some very, very painful confrontations about it," Sheen told Closer Weekly. Eventually, he was able to convince his dad and get his blessing to be a Hollywood star.

Sheen has been open about the reason he changed his name early on in his career — specifically, to sound more American. However, it remains one of his biggest regrets, and it caused him some pain when his father visited while he was acting in a play on Broadway, as Sheen's own son Emilio Estevez revealed to Today. "He stood outside of the theater and looked up at the marquee, and my dad saw him shake his head in disappointment, and so he never got over that," Estevez shared. "And so I think when it was time for me to sort of start making those moves and start getting out and doing auditions, he said, 'Man, if I had one thing to do over, it was that I never would have changed my name.'"

Martin Sheen has regrets about his career

Martin Sheen is such an accomplished actor that it's hard to believe he has major regrets about the roles he's taken on — and ones he turned down. Before "Silence of the Lambs" became one of the most acclaimed films of all time, Sheen declined the chance to play FBI agent Jack Crawford (eventually played by Scott Glenn) because he didn't want to be associated with the fictional murderer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). "I was just so torn because I couldn't come to grips with being in a film that might inspire someone to kill someone and use their skin as a lampshade," he stated to Page Six.

The actor, who also regrets saying no to "The Godfather" and "Blade Runner," told Sorted Magazine (via the Mirror) that he thinks most of his movies were subpar. "I have only done a handful of feature films that I'm proud of, that are good, that stood," he declared. He named "Badlands" and "Apocalypse Now" as his faves and added that he wasn't proud of the vast majority of his other films, claiming he did them just for a paycheck. "I am proud of just a handful of them — I would say 90 percent of it was basically trash," Sheen proclaimed.

Martin Sheen has been arrested over 60 times

You might be surprised to learn that Martin Sheen has one of the longest rap sheets in Hollywood. The "Catch Me If You Can" star isn't a nefarious criminal, however. As reported by The Daily Mail, Sheen revealed during a speech at Oxford University that he had first been arrested in 1986 during a protest of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, aka the Star Wars program. "It was a terrifying experience, and also one of the happiest days of my life because it turned out we had done everything we possibly could to object to this idea," he told the audience.

Sheen has been arrested 66 more times for various demonstrations, including the 1999 protest in Los Alamos, New Mexico, against the building of nuclear bombs. According to People, he crossed a boundary and was taken by the police. Sheen's latest arrest was in 2020 at a climate change protest at the Capitol led by his "Grace and Frankie" co-star Jane Fonda, per NBC News. He and fellow actor Joaquin Phoenix were taken into custody after not heeding the authorities' warnings to disband. "We are called to find something in our lives worth fighting for ... something that can help us lift up this nation and all its people to that place, where the heart is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free," Sheen declared to the crowd before his arrest.

Martin Sheen almost faced two tragedies while filming Apocalypse Now

"Apocalypse Now" is a harrowing story following a military group tracking a rogue officer (Marlon Brando) during the Vietnam War. While making it, Martin Sheen experienced two real-life terrors. Although he didn't know it at the time, Sheen later found out that his son Emilio Estevez, who was barely a teen, almost drowned, per Daily Blast Live. He described how his son and Laurence Fishburne, then 14 years old, were on a boat that ended up getting stuck. Estevez went into the water to free the vessel but got caught in the mud. "He went under and Larry very quickly moved and pulled him on board," Sheen shared. When he found out years later, he called Fishburne to thank him.

Sheen underwent his own near-tragedy when he suffered a heart attack while filming "Apocalypse Now" in the Philippines and had to be air-lifted to a hospital. The doctors told him he couldn't resume filming for a month, and he came to the conclusion that the stress of the movie had a grave effect on his health. "I realized that I'd gone too far. I had bit off more than I could chew and I was choking on it," he told Yahoo Entertainment. At the time, he was drinking heavily for the role while smoking cigarettes at the same time, and it took him a while to realize he was ill. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he stated, "I completely fell apart. My spirit was exposed. I cried and cried."

Martin Sheen underwent heart surgery

"Apocalypse Now" was just the start of Martin Sheen's health problems, and his heart issues continued to plague him over the years. In December 2015, Emilio Estevez announced on Facebook that his father had just undergone quadruple bypass surgery and was recovering at a hospital in Los Angeles. "The decision to operate on his heart was a proactive one, not an emergency situation," he clarified. "Not surprisingly, he is recovering beautifully, out of the ICU and is expected to not only be home for Christmas, but be 100% by the time he returns to work on season three of the Netflix series, 'Grace and Frankie' early next year," Estevez continued, wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

Sheen was able to go home just in time for Christmas. In a now-deleted tweet (via Business Standard), Estevez shared a picture of his father getting ready to leave the hospital and wrote, "My Pop! Successful proactive quadruple bypass surgery this week! A great Blessing indeed!"

Martin Sheen almost lost his house to a wildfire

In November 2018, many Malibu residents had to evacuate due to a wildfire spreading around the area, with Martin Sheen and his wife Janet among them. As reported by Fox 11, Charlie Sheen asked folks for help when he couldn't reach his parents. "They are in the group, at the staging ground near Zuma Beach. If anyone has eyes on them, please let me know that they are safe and sound in the middle of this horrific scenario. Thank you in advance," the "Two and a Half Men" actor tweeted. The news outlet later found Martin and Janet at the beach, where he told his kids through the camera that he and his wife would hunker down and spend the night in the car.

Sheen wasn't initially sure if his house survived the fires, but he later told Fox 11 that it was fine except for it being coated with ashes and he gave thanks to the fans who were worried for his safety.