Activism is Never-Ending Fight for Sheen

YOUNGSTOWN – “Acting is what I do for a living but activism is what I do to stay alive,” said Martin Sheen.

The actor and activist spoke at a packed Stambaugh Auditorium Wednesday evening as part of Youngstown State University’s Skeggs Lecture Series.

Sheen was born and reared in Dayton to immigrant parents – his father was from Spain and his mother from Ireland – and attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church and schools in the city’s Oregon neighborhood.

He was to be in his hometown a week ago to speak at a memorial service for the victims of the August mass shooting, but his schedule would not permit it.

Sheen then read the speech he would have given had he attended the rally. 

“This is of course a secular event and I honor that as such, but from time to time there is a convergence of  the secular and sacred that cannot be simply ignored,” he said. “In that spirit I take the liberty to invite you here to lift up your voices to bond with the victims of gun violence across the nation with ‘Amazing Grace.’ ”

He then led the Stambaugh audience in singing the hymn, which he said is fast becoming a new national anthem.

Caring for each other and lifting up the downtrodden was a recurring of Sheen’s address, and he demonstrated that he is a rousing orator with strong beliefs and morals. But he punctuated his talk with an easy charm, sharing jokes and humorous anecdotes.

“I overheard a passenger at an airport say, ‘No he is not Emilio Estevez’s brother. He is Charlie Sheen’s son,’ ” he said.

Sheen and his wife of 50 years, Janet, have four children, including actors Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen.

Sheen is best known for his role as President Bartlet on NBC’s award-winning drama “The West Wing,” which aired from 1999 to 2006. His film roles include “The Departed,” “Badlands” and “The Way,” and he currently stars in the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.”

But the 79-year-old Sheen is equally known as a humanitarian and social activist, and he has lent his voice to many causes. In the early ’90s, he was arrested during a protest in East Liverpool in opposition to a medical waste incinerator.

Sheen is one of 10 children and cited his upbringing as what set him on a path for activism.

“If you grew up in a large, poor immigrant family, chances are you were either Irish or Hispanic and I was lucky enough to be both,” he said. “So I head a head start when it came to social injustice activism.”

Sheen became immersed in political activism during the protests of the turbulent 1960s when he was in his 20s. He said he counts the late Sen. John Glenn as one of his heroes, as well as Sen. Sherrod Brown.

He said he expected Sen. Brown to announce his candidacy for president.

Sheen – his given name is Ramon Estevez – moved to New York to pursue an acting career when he was 18. 

“I have been an actor all my life and have no conscious memory of not being one,” he said. “When I started going to the movies at age 5 or 6, it dawned on me that I was like those people on the screen and I would never be happy and never live an honest life if I did not pursue that wondrous mystery that possessed me.”

After his 35-minute address, Sheen took questions from YSU theater majors, offering them acting tips and career advice.

In answering one question about “The West Wing”, he said “I’ve often been asked if I would have accepted the role of President Bartlet if he was a Republican. 

“Absolutely, as long as [series creator] Aaron Sorkin was writing him.”

He added that the only traits for President Bartlet that he asked for when he got the role was that he be a practicing Catholic with a moral compass and had a degree from the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.