Known for her work as a political activist as well as an actress, Jackson Heights native Susan Sarandon has remained a celebrity who defies stereotypes. Whether she has played, in the words of one biographer, a “wide-eyed, ingénue or seductive older woman,” she has “demonstrated throughout her career considerable range and fearlessness, excelling equally as devoted mother and sultry screen siren.” She is one of the most prolific actresses of her generation.
Born Susan Abigail Tomalin Oct. 4, 1946, the oldest of 10 siblings, her family moved to Metuchen, N.J., when she was a young girl. After graduating high school in 1964, she attended American University and took up acting classes. Here she met her future husband, Chris Sarandon, who later also became an acclaimed actor.
The couple moved to New York and on a whim Chris asked her to come along to read a second part in an audition. The agent was so impressed with them he signed them both as clients. Less than a week later she landed her film debut as a drugged out hippie in the 1970 classic “Joe.”
She played in movies and in “A Search for Tomorrow,” a soap opera, before her next memorable role in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), described as “the cult classic that survived for decades with successive midnight showings that created a subculture of freaks and geeks dressing like the characters and acting out scenes in the theater.”
Sarandon starred in memorable films such as “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975), “Pretty Baby” (1978) and “Atlantic City” (1980), the crime drama that finally earned her an Oscar nod for best actress. Her performance in “Bull Durham” (1988) propelled her into stardom.
She had a string of Oscar-nominated roles in “Thelma & Louise” (1991), “Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992) and “The Client” (1994), finally achieving success with an Academy Award in “Dead Man Walking” (1995). Sarandon kept working as a sultry leading lady, well past the age most actresses found themselves struggling to maintain their careers.
In 2001, a rare sitcom performance, playing a soap opera diva on an episode of “Friends” (NBC, 1994-2004), led to an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. Her compelling performance as tobacco millionaire, philanthropist and avid socialite Doris Duke in the television movie “Bernard and Doris” (HBO, 2008) earned her an eighth Golden Globe nomination.
Throughout the 1980s, Sarandon, who has always been politically active, increased her public advocacy of progressive ideals, including traveling as part of a delegation to Nicaragua in 1983 to promote social and economic justice and making contributions to Emily’s List, a political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democrats.
Sarandon has contributed narration to some two dozen documentary films, many dealing with social and political issues, and many installments of PBS documentaries. In 1999, Sarandon was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
She has advocated for progressive causes such as gay rights, took early public stands against the Iraq war, campaigned against racism and took part in such notable events as the 2004 Racism Watch, Live 8 Concert and Ben Cohen’s — of Ben & Jerry’s fame — TrueMajority. Sarandon has worked with notable leaders in the progressive movement, from Cindy Sheehan to John Fonda.
In 2006, she received the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award and was one of eight women selected to carry the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
She is noted in political circles as being one of the co-chairs of Ralph Nader’s 2000 election bid. Four years later she supported Democrat John Kerry and during the 2008 election campaign Sarandon announced she would consider moving out of the country if Republican John McCain was elected president.
Sarandon and her longtime partner, actor Tim Robbins, live in New York.
Notable quote: “I try to live my life every day in the present, and try not to turn a blind eye to injustice and need. I’m a native New Yorker. Everything to do with New York feels like my family.”
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©2009 Community News Group
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