Remember When Willie Nelson Made His Film Debut?
Willie Nelson didn't exactly start at the bottom and work his way up as an actor. The country icon made his film debut alongside two legends in a film that was directed by an Academy Award-winning director when he appeared in The Electric Horseman in 1979.
The Electric Horseman starred Robert Redford as Norman "Sonny" Steele, a washed-up former championship rodeo rider who's been reduced to earning a living by making public appearances to sell cereal. When he's in Las Vegas to ride a $12 million champion thoroughbred racehorse named Rising Star at an appearance, he finds out the horse is injured and has been drugged, so he decides to steal the horse and travel across the country to release Rising Star in a canyon full of wild horses to live out its life.
Jane Fonda played a TV news reporter named Hallie Martin who finds Steele and follows him, hoping to get his exclusive story. Nelson played Wendell Hickson, a cowboy who is Steele's sidekick, and the film was directed by Sydney Pollak, who would go on to win two Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for his work on Out of Africa.
Nelson was also deeply involved with the soundtrack to the film, recording "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys", "Midnight Rider," "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," "So You Think You're a Cowboy" and "Hands on the Wheel" for the movie's score.
Released on Dec. 21, 1979, The Electric Horseman was well-received, earning $68.1 million at the box office against a budget of $12.5 million. Reviews were somewhat mixed but leaned toward the positive, and Pollack was so impressed with Nelson that he would go on to produce the country legend in his first starring vehicle, Honeysuckle Rose, in 1980. Nelson would go on to act in many other films, including Songwriter, Red Headed Stranger, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and The Dukes of Hazzard, but the multi-talented entertainer is openly dismissive of his own acting ability.
“I’m the worst actor ever," Nelson said in 2013. “Somebody asked Slim Pickens about my acting one time, and Slim said, ‘He plays Willie Nelson better than anybody.’ I have to agree with him on that one, I guess. I usually pretty much play myself, whoever I’m supposed to be. And that doesn’t require a lot of acting.”
See Willie Nelson Through the Years