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Susan Sarandon - Biography

Actress Susan Sarandon has been one of Hollywood's leading ladies since the 1970s

Susan Sarandon at an anniversary celebration of Thelma and Louise
Chloe Best
Lifestyle Features Editor
Updated: 27 June 2023
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After a string of forgettable screen roles, Susan Sarandon finally made a splash with the 1975 cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which she cavorted around scantily dressed to much acclaim. "It must seem to a lot of people that I am always naked or making love in my films," says the celebrated actress. "I think it's very hard to be in a scene and not be upstaged by your nipples."

She graduated effortlessly to less revealing roles, however, and went on to earn five Oscar nominations, all while living according to her personal motto: "Plan to be surprised". 

susan sarandon
Susan Sarandon has appeared in several acclaimed films

Susan's childhood and early career

Susan Abigail Tomalin was born on October 4, 1946, in New York City, but grew up across the bridge in New Jersey, the eldest of nine children. Despite her current image as a sexy, politically active mom for the new millennium, she was schooled in a convent and went on to study at Washington DC's Catholic University Of America. She never even planned to be an actress, let alone a major star. But after doing some advertising work in order to pay the bills, she ended up reading for director John Avildsen and landed a role in the 1970 feature film Joe. Soap opera stints followed, before Rocky Horror and Pretty Baby co-starring a then 12-year-old Brooke Shields brought Susan into the limelight.

Professional acclaim and activism

After the questionable accolade of being voted "Celebrity Breasts Of The Summer" by Playboy readers in 1981, Susan enjoyed professional acclaim in the form of her first Oscar nomination for her role in 1982's Atlantic City. Another four Oscar nods followed, and in 1996 she took home the coveted trophy for her tour de force performance as a nun who befriends a death-row inmate, played by Sean Penn, in Dead Man Walking.

Although her position on the A-list is secure, Susan has never been one to play the diva. She's more likely to use her fame to campaign for the freeing of detained refugees. The oft-arrested star her involvement in anti-Vietnam protests in college landed her in jail and even today she is often detained as a result of her activism relishes the chance to "use my celebrity instead of being used by it".

"It would be harder to live with myself if I did not take advantage of my celebrity," says Susan, who serves a special representative to the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF. "I feel my life is saved by the fact that I am able to use my celebrity to shine a flashlight on information not necessarily being represented in the media."

Susan's marriage and motherhood

Proud as she is of her work as an actress and on behalf of charity AIDS research is among the causes she espouses the role to which Susan is most devoted is that of a mother. After the demise of her 1967 marriage to her college sweetheart, actor Chris Sarandon, Susan took up briefly with Italian writer-director Franco Amurri, with whom she had a baby girl, Eva, born in 1981.

Susan Sarandon with her sons in 2017© Getty Images
Susan Sarandon with her sons in 2017

She also has two sons by her partner Tim Robbins, whom she met in 1988 on the set of Bull Durham. Jack Henry was born in 1989, and Miles Guthrie followed three years later. A mum before all else, Susan refused to shoot films during the children's school holidays.

When accepting her Dead Man Walking Oscar, she dedicated it to longtime love Tim, the film's director saying: "This is yours as much as mine. Thank God we live together". In the multi-talented actor and director she seemed to have found her soulmate - someone who shared her passions for film, political activism and family. So the showbiz world was rocked when, in 2009, they split. "Susan Sarandon and her partner of 23 years, actor Tim Robbins, have announced that they separated over the summer," came the announcement from the actress' publicist. 

Months of speculation followed until Susan finally spoke out about the collapse of her relationship, often considered as one of the strongest in Hollywood. "I did a movie a long time ago where I had to fly in a glider," she said.  "You get towed up in the air by a plane, and it's loud and annoying. And at some point you pull the cord and you're suddenly floating, and in your mind it makes absolutely no sense. But it's exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. That's where I am now." She added: "It's a long time to not be dating and then go back into it. I certainly love the idea of being in love, and I love the idea of companionship.  "Whatever happens next in terms of romance and partners, I don't know. But it's exhilarating and terrifying. I think the point is just keep moving, and to just say yes to life."

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