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Acting, activism fuel Sheen's life
By Chris Hornsey, Star Staff Reporter
Monday, September 22, 2003
Martin Sheen is proud of being a Catholic and an activist.

Martin Sheen loves Canada.

The American actor and activist spent an evening in Windsor on the weekend, sandwiched between a library dedication in Milwaukee Friday and the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles Sunday, to receive what he called "a great honour," the Christian Culture Gold Medal from Assumption University.

Sheen, who was nominated for a fifth Emmy Sunday for his portrayal of President Jed Bartlet on TV's The West Wing, has been a thorn in the side of both Bush administrations, most recently for his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, which he describes as "a visionless effort." He has been arrested dozens of times for protesting for the homeless, migrant workers and conditions in Third World countries. Sheen is just finishing three years probation for a well-publicized 2000 arrest at a demonstration against military space technology at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Little wonder he feels so comfortable on this side of the border.

"Every time I cross this border I feel like I've left the land of lunatics," Sheen said Saturday, adding he was "proud" of Canada for not entering the Iraq war. "You are not armed and dangerous. You do not shoot each other. I always feel a bit more human when I come here."

Sheen was chosen as this year's recipient of the Christian Culture Gold Medal "as an outstanding exponent of Christian ideals," said Assumption University president Rev. Bill Irwin.

"There are three things to know about Martin Sheen to understand why he has been awarded the gold medal," Irwin said. "He has made an outstanding contribution to the arts in his chosen profession. He has been actively engaged in the struggle for social justice much of his adult life. And Martin Sheen's passion for social justice comes from his Catholic faith."

Irwin said there are those who wonder about Sheen's motives for his activism, but it is genuine, uncompromising and motivated by faith. He said Sheen was also willing to risk the personal cost to his career that may result from his actions.

Sheen said "it should be costly" or else activism loses its significance.

The actor, who for some will be forever known as Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now or Carl Fox in Wall Street, was born Ramon Estevez in Dayton, Ohio, in 1940. He was one of 10 children raised in a Catholic household by parents he describes as "scrupulously honest." He said his faith lapsed during his early years as an actor "with an ego" but a near-fatal heart attack suffered during the filming of Apocalypse Now where he was given last rites and the poverty he witnessed in India in 1981 while shooting Gandhi re-established his Catholic faith and put him on the path to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable".

"Those experiences had a profound effect on my life and led directly to my return to Catholicism," Sheen said. "The past 23 years have been the most difficult in my life, and also the happiest."

The easy-going actor seemed genuinely delighted to accept the gold medal, which was inscribed with his given name, Ramon Estevez, at his insistence. After sneaking out to the parking lot behind Assumption University to have a smoke with the cafeteria staff (an act that endeared him to them) he told reporters he was "humbled" a new scholarship in his name is being offered by Assumption University, the seed money raised by Saturday's banquet in his honour.

"It is (his) qualities of excellence, dedication to social justice and religious conviction that we shall look for in students applying for the scholarship," Irwin said.


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