Martin Sheen is a Hollywood legend. He’s been nominated for 12 Emmy Awards (winning one), and starred in the all-time classic Apocalypse Now. Sheen’s opening up about his biggest career regret and it’s a doozy.
Martin Sheen’s Humble Beginnings
Born in 1940 to immigrant parents, Sheen grew up in Ohio and Bermuda. His father was a factory worker. Sheen’s early days were beset by tragedy and hardship. His arm was crushed during childbirth resulting in Erb’s palsy. A bout with polio soon left him bedridden, and the death of his mother when Sheen was only 11 years old nearly thrust the family into foster homes.
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Luckily, Sheen and his five siblings were able to stay together through the Catholic Church. He developed an interest in acting at a young age, deliberately failing his entrance exams so he could pursue his passion. Inspired by James Dean, Sheen developed a theater company in the 1960s and kickstarted his acting career.
What’s In A Name?
Of course, he wasn’t born Martin Sheen. His real name is Ramón Estévez. He got his new name by combining the names of televangelist Fulton Sheen and the CBS director who gave him his big break, Robert Dale Martin. It wasn’t an easy choice, but the Departed star felt he was losing work on account of his name.
In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, Sheen explained why he changed his name: “It’s difficult enough trying to get started as an actor, and my name kept throwing people—they couldn’t pronounce it. I thought, ‘I’ve got enough problems, I can’t be bogged down with this name.’” Sheen never changed his government name, so he’s officially Ramón Estévez on his license and passport.
His One Big Regret
Today, Sheen is in his 80s and looking back on his lengthy career. His two names live on in his two successful children: Emilio Estévez and Charlie Sheen. In an interview with Closer, he says his main influence on Emilio was convincing him to keep his own last name: “When he started out, his agent was advising him to change his name to Sheen and he wouldn’t do it. And I thank God he didn’t.”
The West Wing star is then asked if he’s sorry he changed his name. “That’s one of my regrets,” Sheen says. “Sometimes you get persuaded when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later.” It sounds like if Sheen were to do it all again, he would have stuck to his birth name.