Movie star and director Clint Eastwood, born in 1930, rose to fame as an icon of masculinity after roles in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns and as an anti-hero cop in the Dirty Harry franchise. Eastwood has also had a significant career in American politics.
Comparatively, Eastwood has kept details of his private life to himself. We know that he has been married twice and has a grand total of seven children. But Eastwood revealed a little-known fact in conversation with The Telegraph that throws his early life into stark relief against his later successes.
The story connects Eastwood in a meaningful way to the movie Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, which he directed in 2016.
Eastwood’s early years give the recently revealed anecdote greater context: the actor was born in San Francisco in 1930, into a steel-working family who moved around a lot. Eastwood was a burly baby, nicknamed “Samson” as he weighed in at a hefty 11 pounds 6 ounces (approx. 5 kg) when he was born. Every inch the “masculine ideal,” he grew to be 6 feet 4 inches tall.
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Eastwood worked as a lifeguard in Seattle after high school but was drafted into the United States Army in 1950. All seemingly normal for a young American man at this time. However, Eastwood experienced a traumatic event at the age of 21 that would resonate for the rest of his life.
Clint Eastwood is a plane crash survivor.
The young man was a passenger on a World War II-era navy bomber that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. “I was catching a free ride from Seattle down to Almeda,” Eastwood told The Telegraph. “It was stormy and we went down off of Point Reyes, California, in the Pacific. I found myself in the water swimming a few miles towards the shore.”
The young Eastwood thought that his life may be over: “I remember thinking, ‘well, 21 is not as long as a person wants to live.’” This morbid thought accompanied Eastwood through several cold hours in Pacific waters: he swam through rough waves and tangled beds of kelp before eventually reaching the shore. The exhausted young man clambered to safety and was able to radio for help.
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Working with Tom Hanks on Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, Eastwood was able to make good use of his unique insight into the experience of the crew and passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 and its emergency landing on the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew members survived.
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger decided to land the aircraft on the freezing-cold waters of the Hudson River but was later challenged by his superiors. Tom Hanks played the leading role, and Eastwood was able to offer his unique perspective, drawing on real-life experience from decades past.
“I suppose having been in a similar situation as the pilot, I would have chanced a water landing rather than go someplace where there’s no runway,” Eastwood mused. “Sully was familiar with that area … he picked the right spot,” the actor continued, showing solidarity for the real life Sully and his ultimately life-saving decision.
Eastwood survived his own oceanic trauma and has deep respect for anybody else who weathers a storm and comes out fighting. “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate problems without panicking, is someone of superior character,” Eastwood declared. It makes for excellent film fodder, too! Sharing trials and traumas, finding strength, and realizing our collective humanity is surely what epic filmmaking is all about.
“For me, the real conflict came after,” Eastwood continued, “with the investigative board questioning [Sully’s] decisions, even though he had saved so many lives.”
Eastwood is right. The hero acts in the moment. The powers that be may take umbrage with his decision making, but the proof is in the result: Eastwood saved himself from certain death many decades ago, and Sully saved hundreds with sharp, split-second decision making.
Two heroes, and no doubt about it.
What do you think of the Hollywood actor’s traumatic experience? What’s your favorite Clint Eastwood movie? Share this article and be sure to comment below!