Will Sampson is probably best known for his role as Chief Bromden, the Native American who feigns being mute in the Oscar winning picture ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Horror fans are probably more familiar with him as Umilak in Dino De Laurentis’ “Jaws meets Moby Dick ala Pop Psychology” flick - “Orca” with Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling and Bo Derek! However, most horror fans would cite his top credit as Taylor the witch doctor in “Poltergeist II: The Other Side”. In that role Will Sampson is often viewed as third of the four victims of “The Poltergeist Curse”.

The Poltergeist Curse” reads as follows. It began in 1982 when Dominique Dunne, who played eldest daughter Dana Freeling in the first Poltergeist film, died at age 22 on November 4th, 1982 at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. A few weeks earlier Dominique had broken off a relationship with her live-in boyfriend, chef John Sweeney. On October 30th Sweeney came by the apartment they had once shared to plea for a second chance. Dunne met him outside. The discussion went badly and ended with Sweeney choking Dunne for 4-6 minutes and leaving her for dead in the driveway. The young actress lapsed into a coma and died days later. Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison but only served 3 years and 8 months of his term.

The curse continued when Julian Beck (The Cotton Club, 9 Weeks) who played Henry Kane in the second film, died at age 60 after 18 months of battling stomach cancer between the filming of the second film and it’s release. His passing was hardly surprising given the circumstances but adds to the tragic air of the Poltergeist casts.

6’ 7” Sampson was next, followed on February 1st 1988 by the death of 12-year-old Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Ann “They’re here” Freeling. The young actress died between the filming of ‘Poltergeist III’ and the film’s release. A year before her death O’Rourke had been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic inflammation of the small bowel. A few days prior to her death Heather had complained of the flu. Her condition deteriorated. She went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital as bacterial toxins, the result of a bowel obstruction, flooded her bloodstream. Her heart was restarted and she was taken by helicopter to another facility for a corrective operation but it was too much for her already poisoned system and she died on the operating table.

Will Sampson was a Muscogee Creek Indian, born on the reservation in Okmulgee Oklahoma on September 27th, 1933. He took great pride in his heritage and in an era when very few Native American actors were cast in Native American roles, Sampson became a spokesperson for his people - insisting that Indians be portrayed as full and complex characters and refused to engage in Hollywood’s favorite stereotypes as either the savage or the noble victim. Writers even sought his counsel and expertise in working for authenticity and cultural accuracy when creating characters or historical scenarios. To further the pride of Native Americans, Sampson spoke at schools and prisons about the plight of the contemporary American Indian. Realizing the high percentages of substance abuse among his people Sampson gave a much of his movie earnings to Red Wind, a program that offers assistance to Native Americans with substance abuse problems. He always considered his acting as third of his priorities – ranking behind furthering the cause of Native Americans and his painting. His artwork currently hangs in The Smithsonian, The Library of Congress, and in museums all around the country.

His film and television roles were plentiful. He was John Strongheart on the series ‘The Yellow Rose’, Ten Bears in the Clint Eastwood movie ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales’, Uncle George in Donna Mills TV-Movie ‘The Hunted Lady’, Harlon Two Leaf in the series ‘Vega$’, Sgt. Cheney in the mini-series and TV series ‘’From Here to Eternity’, William Halsey in Robert Altman’s ‘Buffalo Bill and the Indians’, and Crazy Horse in the Charles Bronson flick ‘The White Buffalo’. Other credits include ‘Insignificance’, ‘Crazy Mama’ (with Cloris Leachman!), ‘Relentless’, ‘Standing Tall’, ‘The Mystic Warrior’, ‘Firewalker’, etc.

On the set of “Poltergeist II” Sampson (much like his medicine man Taylor character in the film) would frequently say that the set was haunted and would periodically bless the area. Many say his unsettling feelings were accurate. Approximately one year after the release of the second in the film series, on June 3rd 1987 the 53-year-old Sampson died of complications after a heart-lung transplant six weeks earlier.  The specific cause of death was listed as severe pre-operative malnutrition and post-operative kidney failure and fungal infection. It has been reported that Sampson knew his chances for survival were compromised given his weakened condition prior to the surgery. The great man was laid to rest in the Creek Indian Cemetery in the heart of the Muscogee Nation.