S+ Stimulant: Sterling Hayden


Sterling Hayden was an American actor and author (1916-1986). For most of his career as a leading man, he specialized in westerns and film noir, such as Johnny GuitarThe Asphalt Jungle and The Killing. Later on he became noted as a character actor for role  in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,  The Godfather & The Long Goodbye.

At 6 ft 5″ tall (1 m 96) he was an out of the ordinary man, with an equally out of the ordinary point of view. Obsessed with the sea from an early age, Sterling often professed distaste for film acting, claiming he did it mainly to pay for his ships and voyages. In 1958, after a bitter divorce, he was awarded custody of his children. He defied a court order and sailed to Tahiti with all four children, Christian, Dana, Gretchen and Matthew. He was at the peak of his Hollywood career and gave it all up overnight in a fervent attempt to live life on his own terms. In his autobiography, Wanderer,  Sterling clearly expressed his passionate point of view:


To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

“I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of “security.” And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”

Sterling Hayden, 1962


S+ suggested reading: Wanderer by Sterling Hayden



Published: November 19th, 2013

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