The actor-activist father of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen was the seventh of 10 children of a Spanish immigrant father and an Irish immigrant mother. He began appearing in high school theater productions and against his father’s wishes borrowed money from a Catholic priest so he could go to New York to pursue his dreams.
Sheen made his professional stage debut in “The Connection” in 1959 at the Living Theater in New York where he had first toiled as a curtain puller and floor sweeper and soon began getting work on episodic TV and in the daytime soap, “As the World Turns.”
His first Broadway break came in 1964 when he was cast in Frank Gilroy’s family drama, “The Subject was Roses,” as a World War II vet who returns home to his unhappy parents. He earned a Tony nomination for his role. In 2010, he starred at the Mark Taper Forum in a revival of the play, cast as the father.
Sheen made his film debut as a juvenile delinquent on a subway train in 1967’s “The Incident” and then reprised his stage role in "Subject" in the 1968 film version.
In 1972, he starred as Hal Holbrook’s lover in the groundbreaking TV movie, “That Certain Summer” and played a charismatic murderer who goes on a killing spree with his girlfriend (Sissy Spacek) in Terrence Malick’s brilliant 1973 “Badlands.”
He alternated between features and TV movies in the 1970s, earning an Emmy nomination as the only soldier executed for cowardice in World War II in 1974’s “The Execution of Private Slovick” as well as appearing as Robert F. Kennedy that year in the ABC docudrama, “The Missiles of October.”
At director Francis Ford Coppola's request, Sheen replaced Harvey Keitel as Willard in his 1979 Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now.” During the troubled shoot in the Philippines, Sheen, who was drinking, suffered a major heart attack. After recuperating for six weeks, he returned to complete the film.
By the mid-1980s, he became involved in producing and directing, earning a daytime Emmy for directing the CBS Schoolbreak Special “Babies Having Babies” in 1986. He appeared with his son Charlie in Oliver Stone’s 1987 classic, “Wall Street.”
He made his feature directorial debut in 1991 with the military drama “Cadence,” which also starred Charlie and son Ramon Estevez. He earned his first acting Emmy as a guest star on a 1993 episode of CBS’ “Murphy Brown,” playing a former radical turned conservative.
A political activist who has spent many a night in jail, as well as donating money to numerous causes, Sheen imbued his political leanings into his character, such as Josiah Bartlett in the Emmy award-winning 1999-2006 series, “The West Wing.”
He appeared in his son Emilio’s 2006 drama, “Bobby,” which dealt with various people at the Ambassador Hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, as well as playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s commander in Martin Scorsese’s 2000 Oscar-winning best film, “The Departed.” He also earned an Emmy nomination appearing with Charlie in a 2006 installment of “Two and a Half Men.”