Sean Justin Penn is an American celebrity, known for acting, filmmaking, and political activism.  He was born August 17, 1960 in Santa Monica, California to his father, Leo Penn, a director, actor, and writer, and Eileen Ryan, an actress.  Penn’s ethnic background includes Lithuanian Jewish, Russian Jewish, Italian, and Irish.


Sean Penn began acting on December 4, 1974 with a small role in an episode of the television series Little House on the Prairie, directed by his father.  His first film was Taps (1981), but his breakout role was as high school surfer, Jeff Spicoli, in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).  Penn earned his first Academy Award nomination for his role as the leading actor in Dead Man Waking (1995).  He also earned the Best Actor Award at the Berlin Film Festival for that role.  In 2001, Penn starred as a mentally handicapped father in the critically acclaimed film I am Sam, for which he received his third Academy Award nomination.  In 2003, Sean Penn won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Mystic River, a 2003 mystery crime film directed by Clint Eastwood.

The first film Sean Penn directed was The Indian Runner (1991), followed by The Crossing Guard (1995), and The Pledge (2001).  Penn wrote, co-produced, and directed Into the Wild (2007), an American drama survival film adapted the non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer in 1996.  The film was nominated for two Golden Globes as well as two Academy Awards (Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor).

Personal Life

Penn met and married pop singer Madonna in 1985.  Their marriage was said to be a volatile one, and included a violent incident where Penn was jailed for assaulting a photographer.  As a result, Penn served 33 days in jail in 1987.  Later that year, Madonna filed for divorce, only to withdraw the papers and then file them again just over a year later in January of 1989.

Shortly after his divorce, Penn began a relationship with actress Robin Wright, and their first child, Dylan Frances, was born on April 13, 1991.  Later they also had a son, Hopper Jack, who was born August 6, 1993.  Eventually Penn and Wright married on April 27, 1996.  In December of 2007, Penn and Wright filed for divorce, but later reconciled and withdrew their divorce case.  On August 12, 2009, the couple filed for divorce a second time, and the divorce was finalized on July 22, 2010.

Penn began dating actress Charlize Theron in late 2013, and the couple became engaged a year later in December 2014.  The relationship ended, however, in June 2015, when Theron broke off their engagement.

Political Involvement and Activism

Sean Penn has been outspoken on many controversial political issues, and is known in particular for his criticisms of President George W. Bush’s administration.

In October 2002, Penn bought a $56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post that was an open letter to President Bush.  It requested that President Bush prevent violence as a response to violence and focus on diplomacy instead, referring to the planned War in Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism.

Last Modified: Mar 8, 2020

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