Peter Coyote Bio


Peter's involvement with both politics and acting began in high school. At fourteen he was a campaign worker in the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign in his home town of Englewood New Jersey. Two years later, he began acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. These twinned preoccupation's have remained current until this day.

As a student at Grinnell College in Iowa, Peter was one of the organizers of a group of twelve students who went to Washington during the Cuban Missile crisis and fasted for three days, protesting the resumption of nuclear testing, and supporting President Kennedy's "peace race". President Kennedy invited the group into the White House (the first time protesters had ever been so recognized), and they met for several hours with MacGeorge Bundy. This meeting received national front-page media attention, and the Grinnell group Xeroxed the coverage and sent it to every college in the United States, precipitating the first mass student demonstration of 25,000 in Washington, in February of 1962.

At the end of his school term, Peter was elected President of the Council of House Presidents, the governing student body at his college.

After graduating with a BA in English literature in 1964, he moved to the West Coast to pursue a Master's Degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. After a short apprenticeship at the San Francisco Actor's Workshop, Peter joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical political street theater, which had recently been arrested for performing in the City's parks without permits.

In the Mime Troupe, he was acting, writing, and directing and directed the first cross-country tour of The Minstrel Show, Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, a highly controversial piece closed by the authorities in several cities. The cast was arrested several times before a triumphal tour of eastern sea-board colleges and universities, culminating in New York City, where they were invited and sponsored by comedian Dick Gregory.

The following year, the Troupe toured again, and a play, Olive Pits, that Peter co-wrote, directed and performed in, won a Special OBIE from New York's prestigious newspaper The VillageVoice.

From 1967, pursuing ideas that had germinated within the Mime Troupe, Peter left the theater for ten years, to "pursue absolute freedom". He was a founding member of "The Diggers," an anarchistic group who supplied free food, free housing, and free medical aid to the hordes of runaways who appeared during the Summer of Love. The Diggers evolved into a group known as the Free Family, which established chains of communes around the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. Many stories of that period are included in his book, Sleeping Where I Fall, published May 1998 by Counterpoint Press and released in paperback in June 1999. The book received universally excellent reviews and a chapter, "Carla's Story", was awarded the 1993-1994 Pushcart Prize, a national prize for excellence in writing. His appeared on three California best-seller lists, including the San Francisco Chronicle's, where it remained for seven weeks and was just released in paperback in June of 1999 after selling out five printings in hardback. He is currently preparing to direct a feature film he has written, called Crimes of Opportunity, and has just sold a pilot for an original television series called 5150 to CBS television.

From 1975 until 1983 Peter was a member of the California State Arts Council, the State Agency that creates public policy for art and culture. After his first year, he was elected Chairman three years in a row by his peers. During his tenure, the Council's budget expanded from 1 to 14 million dollars a year.

These political victories encouraged Peter's decision to honor a life-long curiosity about cinema, and raised his confidence about his ability to work in that field. Beginning in 1978 he began to work at San Francisco's award-winning Magic Theater, doing plays back-to-back, "to shake out the rust". While playing the lead in the World Premiere of Sam Shepard's True West, he was spotted by a Hollywood agent who asked to represent him. Fifty plus films later Peter is still acting, and is now preparing to direct his own projects.

He maintains his political activity in a number of ways. Along with author Peter Mathiessen, he is one of two non-native advisors to imprisoned Sioux leader Leonard Peltier, a close personal friend. He is an active environmentalist, proud to support Earth First, Wild Earth Magazine, among a host of others, and he is still passionate about the political process. In 1994 he was a special Delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and also reported on the convention for Mother Jones Magazine. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, Actor's Equity, and The Player's Club, a professional club for performers and artists in New York City.

Peter has made over 55 films for television and movie theaters, and has performed in many European films for some of Europe and America's greatest directors including Barry Levinson (Sphere), Roman Polanski (Bitter Moon), Pedro Almodova (Kika), Steven Spielberg (E.T.), Walter Hill (Southern Comfort), Martin Ritt (Cross Creek), and Diane Kurys (A Man in Love). He has recently completed Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas--his co-star from Bitter Moon--for Sidney Pollack). He played "Harvey Milk" in Execution of Justice for Cuban director, Leon Ichaso, and "Kurt Potter" in Steven Soderburg's Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts and Albert Finney.

Coyote speaks French and Spanish, and normally spends time each year in either Paris or London. He has two children he allows to monopolize much of his free time; he is an avid outdoorsman considering either a week passing without fishing, or a year without at least one month living rough, a complete waste. He lists among his primary hobbies playing the guitar and writing songs, photography--and considers his only unconquered addiction to be his completely re-built 1964 Dodge Town Power Wagon he has owned since 1969.

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