Sean Penn (born August 17, 1960) is an American film actor and
director, who is also known for being a political activist. He is a two-time
Academy Award winner for his roles in Mystic River and Milk, as well as
receiving a Golden Globe Award for the former and a Screen Actors Guild
Award for the latter.
Sean was born in Los Angeles County, California, the son of Leo Penn, an actor and director, and Eileen Ryan (née Annucci), an actress. He has one living brother, musician Michael Penn. Another brother, actor Chris Penn, died in 2006. His paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Russia, while his mother is a Catholic of Italian and Irish descent. According to Penn's mother, Leo Sean may have had distant Spanish ancestry, as the family's surname was originally "Piñón". Sean was raised in a secular home and is an agnostic.
Sean appeared in a 1974 episode of the Little House on the Prairie television series as a then blond-haired extra when his father, Leo, directed some of the episodes.
Sean launched his film career with the 1981 film Taps, where he played a key role as a military high school cadet opposite protagonist Timothy Hutton. Tom Cruise also made one of his first film appearances as another cadet in the action-drama. A year later, he appeared in the hit comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (in the role of surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli). Penn's portrayal of Spicoli was immensely popular and the film remained his most commercially successful work for many years. In 1983, Sean turned in one of his best early performances as Mick O'Brien, a troubled youth in the drama Bad Boys. It earned Sean favorable reviews and jump started his career as a serious actor.
In 1985, Sean gave a memorable performance in the role of Andrew Daulton Lee in The Falcon and the Snowman, which closely followed an actual criminal case. Lee was a former drug dealer by trade, convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union and was originally sentenced to life in prison. Lee was paroled in 1998. According to an April 8, 2005, interview in The Guardian, Sean later hired Lee as his personal assistant, partly because he wanted to reward Lee for allowing him to play Lee in the film, and also because he was a firm believer in rehabilitation and thought Andrew Lee should be successfully reintegrated into society since he was a free man again.
In 1986 he starred in the drama At Close Range, opposite Christopher Walken. The film was also based on a true story and gained positive reviews from critics. The film featured his then wife Madonna's single "Live to Tell". The music video for the song, which featured clips from the film, played heavily on MTV and helped promote the film.
Sean has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor five times and won the award twice. The academy first recognized his work playing a racist murderer on death row in Tim Robbins' 1995 drama Dead Man Walking. Sean was noted in 1999 for his comedic performance as an egotistical jazz guitarist in the Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown. He received his third nomination in 2001 after portraying a mentally-handicapped father in I am Sam. In 2003, Sean finally won for his role in Clint Eastwood's Boston crime-drama Mystic River. In 2004, he played a disturbed man bent on killing the president in The Assassination of Richard Nixon. He received his fifth nomination and second win for his role as Harvey Milk in the 2008 film Milk. He was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2004.
Penn's interest in politics is reflected in some of his recent film roles. In 2006 he portrayed populist governor Willie Stark (based on Huey Long) in an adaptation of the classic American novel All the King's Men, though the film was a critical and commercial failure. In November 2008, Sean earned rave reviews for his portrayal of real-life gay rights icon and politician Harvey Milk in the biopic Milk and was nominated for best actor for the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.
In 1991, Sean made his directorial debut with The Indian Runner, a film based on Bruce Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman" from the Nebraska album. He also directed music videos, such as Shania Twain's "Dance with the One That Brought You" in 1993 and Peter Gabriel's "The Barry Williams Show" in 2002. He has since directed three more films, all of which were well-received by critics: The Crossing Guard in 1995, The Pledge in 2001, and Into the Wild in 2007.
Sean with Robin Wright in 2006.Sean was supposedly engaged to actress Elizabeth McGovern, his co-star in 1984's Racing with the Moon, after which he dated Susan Sarandon. Penn's personal life began to attract media attention when he married pop star Madonna in 1985. The relationship was marred by violent outbursts against the press, including one incident for which he was arrested for violently beating a photographer. It is also suggested that when Sean discovered the paparazzo in his hotel room, he hung him by his ankles from the ninth-floor balcony. Madonna dedicated her third studio album, True Blue to Penn, referring to him in the liner notes as "the coolest guy in the universe". Later in the marriage, Sean was charged with felony domestic assault, a charge for which he pleaded to a misdemeanor. Sean and Madonna divorced in 1989.
He soon began a relationship with Robin Wright, and their first child, Dylan Frances, was born in 1991. Their second child, Hopper Jack, was born in 1993. Sean and Wright married in 1996 and lived in Ross, California. On December 27, 2007, the couple's representative announced that the Penns were divorcing, but they later stopped divorce proceedings in April 2008. On April 23, 2009 Sean filed for a legal separation. In the filing he requested joint physical and legal custody of their children, and that the court not award spousal support to Wright.
During a separation from Wright in the mid 1990s, Sean dated singer and songwriter Jewel. He was also the director of the original video for Jewel's hit song "You Were Meant for Me".
Penn's younger brother, Chris, died from an enlarged heart in his Santa Monica condominium on January 24, 2006.
Along with Johnny Depp, Mick Hucknall, and John Malkovich, Sean is a part-owner of the Parisian restaurant-bar Man Ray.
Sean has been active in supporting several political and social causes. On June 10, 2005, Sean made a visit to Iran. Acting as a journalist on an assignment for the San Francisco Chronicle, he attended a Friday prayer at Tehran University. Later in 2005, Sean appeared at the ACLU of Northern California's annual Bill of Rights Day Celebration to present Sister Helen Prejean with the Chief Justice Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award for her work opposing the death penalty.
On January 7, 2006, Sean was a special guest at a forum hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America. He was joined by author and media critic Norman Solomon, Democratic congressional candidate Charles Brown, and activist Cindy Sheehan. The "Out of Iraq Forum", which took place in Sacramento, California, was organized to promote the anti-war movement calling for an end to the War in Iraq.
In August 2008, Sean made an appearance at one of Ralph Nader's "Open the Debates" Super Rallies. He protested the political exclusion of Nader and other third parties.
In October 2008, Sean traveled to Cuba, where he met with and interviewed President Raúl Castro.
On October 18, 2002, Sean placed a US$56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post asking then President George W. Bush to end a cycle of violence. It was written as an open letter and referred to the planned attack on Iraq and the War on Terror. In the letter, Sean also criticized the Bush administration for its "deconstruction of civil liberties" and its "simplistic and inflammatory view of good and evil." Sean visited Iran briefly in December 2002.
This advertisement was cited as a primary reason for the development of his relationship with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Chávez used and read aloud an open letter Sean wrote to Bush in one of his televised speeches. The letter condemned the Iraq War, called for Bush to be impeached, and also called Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "villainously and criminally obscene people". In August 2007, Sean met with Chávez in Caracas for two hours, after which Chávez praised him for urging Americans to impeach Bush. Sean also visited a new film studio on the outskirts of Caracas, though he did not speak publicly.
On April 19, 2007, Sean appeared on The Colbert Report and had a "Meta-Free-Phor-All" versus Stephen Colbert that was judged by Robert Pinsky. This stemmed from some of Penn's criticisms of Bush. His exact quote was "We cower as you point your fingers telling us to support our troops. You and the smarmy pundits in your pocket – those who bathe in the moisture of your soiled and blood-soaked underwear – can take that noise and shove it." He won the contest with 10,000,000 points to Colbert's 1.
On December 7, 2007, Sean said he supported Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich for U.S. President in 2008, and criticized Bush's handling of the Iraq war. Sean questioned whether Bush's twin daughters supported the war in Iraq.
In September 2005, Sean traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, to aid Hurricane Katrina victims. He was physically involved in rescuing people, although there was criticism that his involvement was a PR stunt as he hired a photographer to come along with his entourage.
Director Spike Lee interviewed Sean for his documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, about Hurricane Katrina.
On December 18, 2006, Sean received the Christopher Reeve First Amendment Award from the Creative Coalition.
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