Sean Penn was born to the late Leo Penn (a film director who was blacklisted for refusing to testify during the McCarthy era) and Eileen Ryan - an actress. Leo Penn was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Russia, while Ryan is a Roman Catholic of Italian and Irish descent; his paternal family's surname was originally Pinon, but was changed when his grandfather emigrated to the United States. Penn has one living brother — musician Michael Penn. His younger brother, actor Chris Penn died on January 24, 2006.
Penn launched his career with the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the role of Jeff Spicoli, and has since starred in over forty movies and won an Oscar for Mystic River. One of his competitors for that Oscar was Bill Murray who was so clearly devastated that he did not win for his performance in Lost in Translation that the presenter also asked the audience to clap for Murray. He has also been nominated for three other Academy Awards in recognition of his roles in the films I Am Sam, Sweet and Lowdown and Dead Man Walking.
In 1991, Sean Penn made his directorial debut with The Indian Runner — a film based on Bruce Springsteen's song Highway Patrolman from the Nebraska album. He has since directed two more films — The Crossing Guard in 1995 and The Pledge in 2001. Both of these films starred Jack Nicholson.
Sean Penn's personal life began to attract much media attention when he married pop star Madonna in 1985. The relationship was marred by violent outbursts against the press intrusion into his life, including one incident for which he was arrested. Later in the marriage, Penn was charged with felony domestic assault. He later pleaded to a misdemeanor charge. After a divorce in 1989, Penn started a relationship with Robin Wright, with whom he had two children before they married in 1996. They live in Marin County, California.
On April 10, 2003, Penn's 1987 Buick Grand National was stolen in Berkeley, California with two firearms in the trunk.
Along with Johnny Depp and Mick Hucknall he part-owns the Parisian restaurant-bar Man Ray.
On October 18, 2002, Penn placed a $56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post asking President George W. Bush to end a cycle of violence. It was written as an open letter and referred to the planned attack on Iraq and the War on Terror. In the letter, Penn also criticized the Bush administration for its "deconstruction of civil liberties" and its "simplistic and inflammatory view of good and evil." Penn visited Iraq briefly in December 2002, largely eschewing meetings with the press.
Sean Penn was portrayed in the war satire Team America: World Police (2004), which prompted the actor to fire off a letter critical of its filmmakers: Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The letter is said to have ended with Penn saying "F--- off", which amused the filmmakers, who used the letter as a form of publicity to promote the movie.
On June 10, 2005, Penn made a visit to Iran. Acting as a journalist on an assignment for the San Francisco Chronicle, he attended Friday prayer ceremony at Tehran University.
In September of 2005, Sean Penn traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to aid Hurricane Katrina victims. He was involved in several rescues, including 73-year-old John Brown, who had told his sister over the phone: "Guess who come and got me out of the house? Sean Penn, the actor. The boys were really nice." The actor then gave some rescuees an unspecified amount of money to tide them over, and then took those who were in need of medical attention to the hospital. Although Penn was praised for his rescue efforts, he was also criticized for bringing along a cameraman to document the event.
On January 7, 2006 Sean Penn was a special guest at a forum hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America. He was joined by author and media critic Normon Solomon, Democratic congressional candidate Charles Brown, and activist Cindy Sheehan. The "Out of Iraq Forum" was attended by 200 individuals and took place in Sacramento, California. The program was moderated by Bill Dursten, President of the Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. The forum was held at a SEIU union hall and was organized to promote the anti-war movement calling for an end to the War in Iraq. Progressive activists, Democratic Party leaders, and other individuals gathered to demonstrate their impatience and frustration with U.S. involvement in Iraq.
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