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Will Sampson, Who Played Indian In ‘Cuckoo’s Nest,’ Dies

June 4, 1987

HOUSTON (AP) _ Will Sampson, the 6-foot-7 actor who played the silent Indian in the film ″One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,″ died Wednesday, 41 days after undergoing a heart-lung transplant. He was 53.

Sampson died at Methodist Hospital, with his former wife, Jill, and son, Tim, at his bedside, said hospital spokeswoman Brenda Blake.

A Creek Indian, he was best known for his portrayal of Jack Nicholson’s mute friend in the film version of Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel.

″I will miss a great friend,″ Nicholson said through his agent, Sandy Bresler in Los Angeles.

Besides ″Cuckoo’s Nest″ in 1975, he appeared in ″The White Buffalo″ in 1977, ″Orca″ in 1977 and ″Alcatraz: the Whole Shocking Story″ in 1978. More recently, he appeared as the demon-battling Indian in ″Poltergeist II: The Other Side.″

″He was just more or less a country boy,″ said Jack Shipley, a rancher who lives near where Sampson was born near Morris, Okla.

Sampson had undergone the transplant on April 23.

″While the transplant was successful with the heart and lung functioning well, Mr. Sampson succumbed due to a combination of problems,″ said Ms. Blake - among them malnutrition, kidney failure and a post-operative infection.

He lapsed into a coma 10 days ago, and the cause of the kidney failure was not known, she said. An autopsy was to be performed.

Sampson suffered from scleroderma, a chronic degenerative condition that affected his heart, lungs and skin. During his lengthy illness, his weight fell from 260 pounds to 140 pounds, causing the malnutrition problem, Ms. Blake said.

″He knew and the doctors knew his chances of survival were extremely small because of his weakened condition,″ said Dr. E. Clinton Lawrence, who treated him. ″But everyone felt he deserved whatever small opportunity transplant might offer him for a new chance.

″I think it was a blessing, because he was not in pain at the end,″ Lawrence said. ″I think Sampson would not have wanted to continue in his final state. He wanted a chance at a meaningful life, he wanted a chance to get back at acting, but he was just too weak.″

Sampson’s body was to be returned for burial in his childhood hometown of Okmulgee, Okla., Ms. Blake said.

The family planned to hold a private Indian ceremony, in which an all night wake would be followed by burial the next day.

Sampson came to Methodist Hospital from his home in Los Angeles to await the operation, and was placed on the hospital’s transplant list April 6. He underwent the eight-hour operation April 23, receiving the organs from a 43- year-old Austin man who suffered a stroke.

Soon after, cards and letters began arriving at the rate of about 70 per day.

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