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The Untold Truth Of Susan Sarandon

Oscar winner, activist, legend, star of classic films like "Bull Durham," "Dead Man Walking," "Thelma & Louise" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Susan Sarandon has had an expansive career since first gracing the silver screen in 1970. Still going strong, in recent years she can be seen and heard in such diverse fare as "Rick and Morty," the "Big Lebowski" spin-off film "The Jesus Rolls," "Ray Donovan" and the kid-friendly Netflix show "Skylanders Academy." 

"I try not to repeat myself and find a way to stretch," Sarandon said in a 2021 interview. "I'm not good at something if it doesn't scare me."

She could be talking about more than acting. For decades Sarandon has been a dedicated activist, working on humanitarian causes abroad and hot political issues at home. Her efforts have had her temporarily banned from the Oscars, arrested multiple times, and named as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Through it all (and marriages/partnerships including Italian director Franco Amurri and co-star/frequent collaborator Tim Robbins), she's raised three children who've also entered show business. But here are some details about her life and career that even the biggest Susan Sarandon fans might not know.

Her father worked in show business

Sometimes talent is hereditary, and a knack for performing certainly runs through the Tomalin family. Born in 1946, Susan Abigail Tomalin grew up as the eldest of nine children living in Metuchen, New Jersey. Long before she became Susan Sarandon the actress, she spent years watching her father get involved in different areas of show business. Phillip Tomalin was a big-band singer who spent some of his time working in nightclubs, also finding work in television as a director, producer, and advertising executive.

The showbiz bug might have bitten her father, but Sarandon didn't take an immediate interest in performing. She went to Catholic University when she was 17, and it was there that her interest in acting began to develop. She graduated from the University in 1968 with a degree in drama, and two years later audiences saw her in the Peter Boyle vehicle "Joe." From there her star rose quickly — by 1974, she was appearing opposite Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in "The Front Page," and in 1975 she was seen alongside Robert Redford in "The Great Waldo Pepper," the same year "Rocky Horror" would really make Sarandon a household name. 

She met her first husband when she was 17

Sarandon met her first husband Chris Sarandon (aka, Prince Humperdinck from "The Princess Bride" and Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" ) while she was in her first year of studies at Catholic University. If it hadn't been for their chance meeting, the world might be sorely lacking in Sarandon performances. When the two of them met, Chris was a graduate student at the University, pursuing his own acting career; they got married when Susan was just twenty years old — even if she says now that she never really wanted to get married.

"I was in college at 17," Sarandon told the "Divorced Not Dead" podcast in 2021. "We kind of eventually dated. Eventually, my first sexual experience. I was so grateful. I decided to get married, and only because we would've gotten kicked out of school. So, we agreed that we would decide every year whether or not to renew."

Shortly after they were married, Chris was auditioning for a film role, and Susan decided to join him. It turned out to be John G. Avildsen's film "Joe," and both Sarandons won roles in the movie. Chris received a bit part, but it was Susan who was put front-and-center as Melissa Compton, one of the film's main characters. With that role, Sarandon formally began her career as an actress.

The couple divorced in 1979, but they kept a close relationship even after going their separate ways. Susan decided to keep "Sarandon" as her surname, despite being urged to change it for the sake of her image because, in her words, "You were considered more available if you weren't married." She held onto the name because she considered Chris to be partially responsible for her entire career. "The name came from a dear friend, who happened to be my husband."

She had a relationship with David Bowie

Susan Sarandon has had some high-profile relationships in the past — most notably, perhaps, her longtime partnership with Robbins — but in a 2014 interview she revealed that she had once had a fling with no less than David Bowie. Sarandon and the rock legend worked together in the 1983 vampire flick "The Hunger," and when asked about their relationship, Sarandon spilled the beans. 

"He's worth idolizing. He's extraordinary," she said. "That was a really interesting period. I wasn't supposed to have kids ... so I wasn't ever in a mode where I was looking to settle down and raise a family."

For years, Sarandon said nothing further about her relationship with the rock star. In October 2021, however, she broke her silence on the now-deceased Bowie in another interview

"I love his wife Iman ... that was clearly who he was destined to be with," Sarandon said. Explaining that they kept in touch sporadically throughout the years (as seen in the picture above, taken in 2003 at the Film Center Society of Lincoln Center's Tribute to Sarandon), his "Hunger" co-star revealed that she had reconnected with Bowie shortly before his 2016 death and "said some things that needed to be said." 

She has worked for humanitarian aid around the world

With 167 acting credits to her name, Susan Sarandon could be forgiven for taking it easy during her time between roles, but that has never been her style. 

For decades, Sarandon has been every bit as dedicated to humanitarian causes as she has to her own career. Whether confronting the global AIDS crisis, child poverty, or world hunger, helping women in need, advocating for more transparent health care, lending herself to Stand Up 2 Cancer or too many other causes to list, Sarandon has spent much of her life working to improve the lives of others. 

"I try to live my life every day in the present, and try not to turn a blind eye to injustice and need," she said in a 2005 interview. "Everyone has a responsibility towards this larger family of man, but especially if you're privileged, that increases your responsibility. I want [my children] to understand the joy of empowerment, of service. I want them to understand that doing the right thing is a joyful experience, that it isn't a grind."

Since 1999, Sarandon has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. In that role she's traveled the globe, assisting in relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, raising awareness of child labor in Brazil, and battling human trafficking in Cambodia.

She has been politically active most of her life

Sarandon hasn't only limited her activist efforts to foreign nations. At home, she's spoken out against the Iraq war, criticized the Catholic church, and campaigned against the death penalty. In 2018, Sarandon was arrested alongside more than 500 other women at a protest in Washington D.C.; the women had organized a sit-in to protest the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy.

Despite her lifelong involvement in politics, she wasn't raised in a family that paid them much attention. 

"It wasn't a house where we knew anything was going on outside," Sarandon told said in 1989. "I've always been jealous of families that sit down and actually argue about things going on outside of themselves." 

Of her own political awareness — which has had her campaigning over the years for names ranging from Ralph Nader and Bill de Blasio to Bernie Sanders, and landing herself in plenty of hot water — she says she knows no other way. "I don't know if people consider me a pain in the ass. Certainly I'm not handing out leaflets on the set," she said. "It's not a choice about being political. It's just a matter of feeling impotent and waiting for the next horrible thing to happen, or else deciding to make my voice known."

Before winning an Oscar, she was banned from the awards

Susan Sarandon may not have been handing out leaflets to her co-workers, but she wasn't afraid of bringing her politics into the professional part of her life, and she didn't always have to do it alone. In 1993, Sarandon and partner Tim Robbins were chosen to present the Academy Award for Film Editing. The two of them went on stage wearing red ribbons, which Robbins said were meant to "call attention to 266 Haitians that are being held in Guantanamo Bay by the United States government" for testing positive with HIV. Before presenting the Oscar, Sarandon said, "On their behalf and all the people living with HIV in this country, we'd like to ask our governing officials in Washington to admit that HIV is not a crime and to admit these people into the United States."

The two of them received a round of applause from the audience after their statements, and they went on to announce the award as usual, but the Academy subsequently banned them from the ceremony. The Academy was forced to invite her back, however, when she won Best Actress for her role as Sister Helen Prejean in "Dead Man Walking." While accepting the award, she kept her comments to the usual thank-yous ... although at the end, invoking her film's capital punishment theme, she urged: "May all of us find in our hearts and in our homes and in our world a way to non-violently end violence, and heal."

She has three children

In the early '80s, Susan Sarandon was diagnosed with endometriosis and told she couldn't have children — which was why she was caught off guard when she became pregnant in 1984. 

"I was like: 'It's a miracle!'" she said. On March 15, 1985 she and Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri welcomed their daughter Eva — who has since become an actress herself, appearing in movies like "Saved!" shows like "Californication," acting opposite her mother in films like "The Banger Sisters" and even playing a younger version of her mom in the 2012 Adam Sandler flick "That's My Boy." Becoming a mother made Sarandon more invested than ever in her desire to improve the world. 

"It's not removed from me. It's something I have to explain to my daughter," she told Mother Jones Magazine. Sarandon and Amurri separated several years later, and in 1988 Sarandon began a relationship with Robbins. The couple had two children together: Jack Henry Robbins (director of the bizarre, endearing 2019 cult film "VHYes," which featured appearances by his parents) and Miles Robbins (who acted in the 2018 comedy "Blockers," as well as the same year's "Halloween" reboot.

In August 2021, Salon asked Sarandon for her observations on motherhood during an interview about her film "Ride the Eagle." She said while it was difficult to be a working mother, she took her children with her whenever she needed to work "until they were old enough to give a substantial argument against going." At the end of the day, she said, "I tried to have fun as a mom ... It grounded me, and triggered all my nurturing talents ... I enjoy being a mother. I really got into it. My kids constantly blew my mind."

She'll be playing a country legend

At seventy-five years old, Susan Sarandon has no intention of slowing down her career. If anything, she might be planning to work harder than ever. Although she's had recurring roles on shows like "The Big C" (2012), "Feud: Bette and Joan" (2017) and "Ray Donovan" (2017 – 2019) in the past, Sarandon is going to be leading a series of her own for the first time.

Sarandon has joined Trace Adkins and Anna Friel in the Fox drama "Monarch," which sounds like it hopes to be an "Empire" for the country music industry. A recent teaser gives us a first look at Sarandon as Dottie Cantrell Roman, the so-called "Queen of Country Music," who has created a dynasty alongside her husband Albie (played by Adkins). With only months to live, Dottie and her family become determined to remind the world of the legacy of their family, which also includes heir-to-the-throne Nicky (Friel), her brother Luke (Josh Sasse) and sister Gigi (Beth Ditto). The series is described by FOX as "a Texas-sized, multi-generational musical drama about America's first family of country music." 

Together, Dottie and Nicky are determined to do whatever they can to maintain the family's power and influence, even if it means taking down people who would attempt to unseat them. Sarandon's daughter Eva Amurri is rumored to be appearing in the show, once again playing a younger version of a Susan Sarandon character; it would be Amurri's first role since 2016.

Can Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins oversee the next "Empire"? Will the show really kill Sarandon off? Featuring both original music and covers, it seems like there could be multiple reasons to give "Monarch" a shot when it debuts in January of 2022.

She doesn't live a Hollywood lifestyle

How does a woman raise three children, star in more than a hundred different roles, stay politically motivated, and work internationally on behalf of UNICEF? Susan Sarandon's achievements are enough to fill up multiple lifetimes, but she's managed to make it all seem effortless. That's partly due to her enviable amount of determination. As Sarandon's daughter Eva Amurri said in a 2019 interview, "I think [my mother] really unapologetically ... went after what she needed to be fulfilled."

Sarandon never lived the typical Hollywood lifestyle. In fact, she never lived any kind of Hollywood lifestyle because she spent the majority of her time on the East Coast. "I don't hang out in L.A.," Sarandon said in the late '80s. "I'm not very obvious in the film community ... there's something unnatural about it. It's too much about the business." 

She has had an epic career

By the standards of Hollywood, Susan Sarandon has had an incredibly unorthodox career. While undeniably talented, she's been the star of more than a few notable flops, from forgotten flicks like "Twilight" (nope, not the one you're thinking of), "Mr. Woodcock" and "The Buddy System" to box-office duds who've since been rediscovered, like "Rocky Horror" and "Speed Racer."

"I've certainly had disappointments ... I think I survived because I see myself and approach this business as a character actor," she said in a 2021 interview looking back on her epic career. "I've got to say, I'm very grateful. I feel I've contributed a lot to the films I've been in." 

"A long time ago, I learned to I let go of expectations — whether the studio will stand behind it, or whether the music will ruin it, or whether it will open in the middle of Hurricane Sandy — there are so many different ways for a film not to be appreciated," she added. "So, I just focus on the process, really, and the connection with other people. It is a group effort. I really, really love that."