Published on August 6, 2012 by Amy
Will Sampson (September 27, 1933 – June 3, 1987) was an American actor and artist.
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Sampson, a Native American Muscogee (Creek), was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. 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 like Wes Studi and Randolph Mantooth starred in stage productions.
Sampson was also an artist. His large painting depicting the Ribbon Dance of his Muscogee people is in the collection of the Creek Council House Museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. His artwork is currently displayed online by The Kvskvnv (“kuskuna”) Association.
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.
In need of a heart and liver transplant, he died on June 3, 1987, of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems. Sampson was 53 years old. He was buried at Graves Creek Cemetery in Hitchita, Oklahoma.