At age 88, actor and director Clint Eastwood has more life experience than nearly anyone else in Hollywood. Professionally and personally, he may very well have seen it all. However, the Dirty Harry star has now revealed – for the very first time – an incredibly personal and heartbreaking story about an event that happened to him over 60 years ago. And the revelation may make you see Eastwood in an entirely different light.
Very few actors can lay claim to the same overwhelming success that Clint Eastwood has attained over the years. Born in San Francisco, California, on May 31, 1930, the veteran performer has been on our screens for six decades now – and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Eastwood first made a splash in 1958 as Rowdy Yates in the television Western Rawhide. And since then, he has gone on to become arguably one of the most well-respected figures in the industry. The star’s reputation largely rests on his imperious performances in movies such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Pale Rider and Dirty Harry.
Even in the ’90s, Eastwood was still delivering the goods in the likes of In the Line of Fire, A Perfect World and the critically acclaimed Unforgiven – proving as a result that he had not lost his acting chops in the decades preceding. However, Unforgiven also highlighted Eastwood’s other key passion: directing.
Yes, after achieving virtually everything there is to achieve in front of the camera, Eastwood began working behind it. The ’00s in particular saw the star begin directing in earnest, and he won plaudits for helming movies such as Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River and Letters from Iwo Jima.
But Eastwood’s not done just yet. Despite having scooped up countless awards for his acting and directorial work, the veteran performer is still showing Hollywood how it’s done with his poignant stories and attention-grabbing camera work. It seems too that at least one of these tales bears some resemblance to his experiences.
Long before he got into acting, Eastwood was conscripted into the U.S. Army back in 1950. This period coincided with the war in Korea, and the future star became a lifeguard, stepping up for the good of his country not long after coming out of high school.
And Eastwood was stationed at Fort Ord in California – an army post that has been closed since 1994. To make ends meet, he would serve during the day while working nights as a bouncer. However, one journey during his service almost turned fatal.
On that occasion, Eastwood was aboard a World War II bomber plane after hitching a ride with a fellow serviceman. However, after the pair had flown through some severe weather conditions, it was decided that the craft would have to make a crash landing in the waters near Point Reyes.
And although Eastwood and the bomber’s pilot successfully landed, Eastwood was nevertheless cast into the Pacific Ocean. The frightening event found Eastwood in dangerous territory and miles away from any land. So, the Army veteran had no choice but to swim for his life – even as day turned to night.
Then, after several long hours trying to reach the shore, Eastwood eventually found himself at a relay tower in Bolinas – pulling himself up a cliff face to escape the nightmare scenario that had been thrust upon him. And decades on from the experience, the star finally opened up about the events of that horrifying day.
In a 2016 interview for The Daily Telegraph, Eastwood recounted, “It was stormy, and we went down off of Point Reyes, California, in the Pacific. I found myself in the water swimming a few miles towards the shore. I remember thinking, ‘Well, 21 is not as long as a person wants to live.’”
Of course, Eastwood is still alive and well, but the events of that almost fatal day still seem to be fresh in his memory. The actor told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, “We went down at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon” – despite the fact that the crash happened more than 60 years ago.
Eastwood added to The Hollywood Reporter, “I could see the Marin County coast from a distance. I don’t know how far it was — it seemed like 50 miles, but it was probably a mile or two. Then it got dark. It was quite a way into nightfall before we reached [the coast].”
Perhaps, then, this harrowing incident made an impact on a young Eastwood before his discharge from the U.S. Army in 1953. However, after 60-plus years of burying the personal tale of survival, Eastwood chose to tell the tale during promotion for his 2016 feature film Sully.
Serving as another biopic in the actor/director’s movie canon, Sully tells the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who miraculously landed an almost doomed plane on the Hudson River. And these 2009 heroics may very well have brought back memories for the star.
Eastwood acknowledged some of the story’s similarities to his own predicament in the ’50s, telling The Daily Telegraph in 2016, “I suppose having been in a similar situation as the pilot, I would have chanced a water landing rather than go someplace where there’s no runway.”
Eastwood added, “And of course Sully was familiar with that area. He knew where the helicopter ports and ferryboats were, so he picked the right spot, where everyone could get to them fast. It wouldn’t be like being out in the middle of the ocean. He knew that somebody would see them.”
And Sully received glowing reviews upon release, with most critics highlighting lead star Tom Hanks’ performance as well as the movie’s coherent retelling of the events that took place that day on U.S. Airways Flight 1549. The biopic additionally grossed $240 million at the international box office.
Eastwood also told The Daily Telegraph before the movie’s release, “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate problems without panicking, is someone of superior character and interesting to watch on film.” Judging by Sully’s commercial and critical success, he was right.
Through many trials and tribulations, then, Clint Eastwood has faced adversity head-on – more often than not overcoming it. Indeed, the actor, director and war veteran seems to be fearless in all aspects of his life, and that now includes surviving an emergency landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when he was just 21 years old.