Martin Sheen was born Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez in Dayton, Ohio, in 1940, one of 10 children. His father was a factory worker. His mother died when he was 11 years old. Catholic charities helped hold the family together and Sheen has been a Catholic-based political activist from a young age. His younger brother is the actor Joe Estevez (1946-).
He always knew he wanted to be an actor and, against his father’s wishes, moved to New York City after high school to start his career. Sheen made his first screen appearance in an episode of Route 66 in 1961 at the age of 21. He made his feature film debut in 1967 in a movie that never received nationwide release, but followed that up the next year with The Subject was Roses (1968) which received two Academy Award nominations.
Sheen made his Broadway debut in 1964 and was a cast member in the original, Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Subject was Roses for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor. He appeared in two more productions in 1975 and 1991.
For his television work, Sheen has received 10 Primetime Emmy nominations, including 6 for his role as Josiah Bartlet in the television series The West Wing (2000-2006). He took home the Emmy for his performance as a guest actor in the long-running series Murphy Brown in 1994.
Sheen has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. He suffered a minor heart attack while filming Apocalypse Now (1979) at the age of 39. His actor brother Joe Estevez subbed for him while Sheen recuperated.
He has appeared in more than 95 feature films to date.
A prominent political activist, Sheen is a strong proponent of worker’s rights as well as a fervent anti-war protester. He has been arrested for his protest activities more than 65 times.
He married Janet Templeton (1944-) in 1961 and the couple raised four children:
- actor/director Emilio Estevez (1962-),
- actor/producer Ramon Estevez (1963-),
- actor/producer Charlie Sheen (1965-) and
- actress Renée Estevez (1967-).