Gather round, folks! In the tradition of the Shire, it’s time to receive your presents on this, the birthday of Samwise Gamgee—Sean Astin! Or…or is it Rudy Ruettiger? Bob Newby? Or is it Michael Walsh?
Perhaps, like the mother of our guest of honor, none other than Sean Astin himself, they’re all just identical cousins! Whichever of Astin’s iconic roles is your favorite, there’s little question that the man of the hour is a Hollywood legend in his own right. Prolific and iconic as his mom, Astin also has an immeasurable amount of geek cred with his contributions to sci-fi and fantasy, not to mention voice acting. On this, his fifty first birthday, let’s cook up some lovely fat golden taters, switch on a little Notre Dame football, and celebrate the story of one Sean Astin – where we learn that there’s still good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.
Born in Santa Monica, CA, on February 25th, 1971, Sean Patrick Astin (nee Sean Patrick Duke) was born into the spotlight not merely by virtue of his mother, Patty Duke, and her fame, but the controversy surrounding his very conception. Fathered biologically by writer and music producer Michael Tell, Duke believed Desi Arnaz, Jr. to be his father as they had a personal relationship at the time as well. To avoid scandal, Tell married Duke – a short lived union that lasted thirteen days and ended before Astin was born. The point became moot later as, when Astin was eighteen months old and Duke married actor John Astin, the toddler called John ‘daddy’ during the point of the ceremony where guests were invited to speak, and the Episcopal priest presiding declared “Well, that about does it!”
John Astin adopted Sean soon after, and while later in life, the matter of his parentage was clarified by genetic testing, Astin has gone on record saying that he maintained close parental relationships with all four of his fathers: Michael Tell, Desi Arnaz, Jr., John Astin, and stepfather Mike Pearce, whom Duke married after divorcing John Astin in 1985.
It was this same year that Astin’s film career began. After performing in his very first acting role at nine years old in the made for TV movie opposite his real life mother, Astin debuted on the silver screen at thirteen in the cult classic The Goonies as Mikey Walsh. From there, he starred in several other films, notable among them being The War of the Roses (1989), Memphis Belle (1990), and Encino Man (1992). However, it would be the title role of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in the biopic Rudy circa 1993 that would earn him major critical acclaim.
Astin continued to star in films throughout the Nineties, such as Bulworth with Warren Beatty, favoring comedies and war or political films while dabbling in directing and producing short films alongside his wife, Christine Astin. While he remained relevant, his career settled into something quieter until the 2000’s rolled around…along with a little film trilogy called The Lord Of The Rings.
In the role of Samwise Gamgee, the simple hobbit gardener that went on to become a critical member of the Fellowship of the Ring, Astin became a pop culture icon – a status granted him thanks to his role in The Goonies, but far more significant in terms of his role and what it’s meant to so many. A loyal servant and friend, Astin embodied the purity and power of Gamgee’s plain and honest virtue with a gravitas that turned him into one of the most beloved heroes of the film, and put the audience right by Frodo’s side in his quest to return the One Ring to Mordor.
Along with winning countless awards for his role in the trilogy, as part of the ensemble and on his own, Astin developed a lasting friendship with castmates like Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, and Dominic Monaghan that has been showcased in the media for its longevity and closeness. Astin even has a tattoo of the word ‘nine’ in Tengwar script, which he shares with seven of his other eight castmates from the film.
While Astin may be best known for his role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he remains a relevant presence in Hollywood. Tapped to star in the 80s nostalgia horror classic Stranger Things due to his status as an Eighties cult icon, Astin won the hearts of fans as the simple yet heroic love interest of Joyce Byers in Season Two, Bob Newby, and returned later for flashbacks in Season Three of the critically acclaimed Netflix show. His status as a beloved member of the fantasy and sci-fi community has also earned him roles on shows like The Big Bang Theory. Astin also does voice acting, and can be heard not just as a narrator on shows like Animal Planet’s Meekrat Manor, but various cartoons, such as Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where he played the role of Raphael.
Regardless where you know him from, there’s one thing we all know about Sean Astin: he’s an iconic actor, an artist with staying power, and as likable a personality as the industry has ever seen. To you, Mr. Astin, we raise a glass, and wish you many happy returns on your special day!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put away this pirate gold I received for Astin’s birthday. I hope it’s not from One Eyed Willy’s stash…
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.