Peter Coyote (born Rachmil Pinchus Ben Mosha Cohon; October 10, 1941) is an American actor, author, director, screenwriter and narrator of films, theatre, television and audio books. His voice work includes narrating the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics and Apple's iPad campaign. He has also served as on-camera co-host of the 2000 Oscar telecasts.
Coyote was one of the founders of the Diggers, an improv group active in Haight-Ashbury during the mid-1960s. Coyote was also an actor, writer and director with the San Francisco Mime Troupe; his prominence in the San Francisco counter-culture scene led to his being interviewed for the highly acclaimed book, "Voices from the Love Generation." He acted in and directed the first cross-country tour of the Minstrel Show, and his play "Olive Pits" (co-authored with Mime Troupe member Peter Berg) won the Troupe an Obie Award from the New York City-based Village Voice. Coyote became a member, and later chairman, of the California Arts Council from 1975 to 1983. In the late 1970s, he shifted from acting on stage to acting in films. In the 1990s and 2000s, he acted in several television shows. He speaks fluent Spanish and French.
Coyote was born in New York City, the son of Ruth (née Fidler) and Morris Cohon, an investment banker. His father was of Sephardic Jewish descent and his mother came from a working-class Ashkenazi Jewish family. Her father, trained as a rabbi in Russia, fled the Czar's draft, and eventually ran a small candy-store in the Bronx. Coyote was raised in a "highly intellectual" and "cultural" family involved in left-wing politics. He grew up in Englewood, New Jersey and graduated from the Dwight-Englewood School there in 1960. Coyote later said that he was "half black and half white inside" because of the influence of Susie Nelson, his family's African-American housekeeper, who was like a second mother to him.
While a student at Grinnell College in 1962, Coyote was one of the organizers of a group of twelve students who traveled to Washington, D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis supporting U.S. President John F. Kennedy's "peace race". Kennedy invited the group into the White House (the first time protesters had ever been so recognized) and they met for several hours with McGeorge Bundy. The group received wide press coverage. They mimeographed the resulting headlines and sent them to every college in the United States.
Once graduated from Grinnell College with a BA in English Literature in 1964,Coyote moved to the West Coast , despite having been accepted at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and commenced working towards a Master's Degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.
After a short apprenticeship at the San Francisco Actors' Workshop, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical political street theater whose members were arrested for performing in parks without permits. Coyote acted, wrote scripts, and directed in the Mime Troupe. Coyote directed the first cross-country tour of The Minstrel Show, Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, a controversial play closed by authorities in several cities.
From 1967 to 1975, Coyote became a prominent member of the San Francisco counter-culture community and a founding member, along with Emmett Grogan, Peter Berg, Judy Goldhaft, Kent Minault, Nina Blasenheim, David Simpson, Jane Lapiner, and Billy Murcott, of the Diggers, an anarchist group known for operating anonymously and without money. They created provocative 'theater' events designed to heighten awareness around issues of private property, consumerism, and identification with one's work. They fed nearly 600 people a day for "free", asking only that people pass through a six foot by six foot square known as The Free Frame of Reference. They ran a Free Store, (where not only the goods, but the management roles were free), a Free Medical Clinic, and even a short-lived Free Bank. The Diggers evolved into a group known as the Free Family, which established chains of communes around the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. Coyote was the best known resident of the Black Bear Ranch commune in Siskiyou County, California.
After dropping out in the Sixties and Seventies, Coyote became a dedicated practitioner of American Zen Buddhism, and is ordained in that tradition. His audiobook recordings of Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Paul Reps's Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge are well-known and well-respected. He was a friend of Rolling Thunder, a Shoshone Medicine man who cured him of an illness using traditional medicine. He has also been a friend of Leonard Peltier since the Sixties and along with author Peter Mathiessen, is one of Peltier's two non-native advisers.
California Arts Council member
From 1975 to 1983, Coyote was a member of the California Arts Council, the state agency which determines art policy for the state. After his first year, Coyote was elected chairman by his peers three years in a row and during his tenure as chairman, the Council's overhead expenses dropped from 50% to 15%, the lowest in the State, and the Arts Council budget rose from $1 million to $16 million. More importantly, his council introduced the idea of artists as "creative problem solvers" and by paying artists to "solve problems for the state" rather than make art, they by-passed the objections of many conservative lawmakers. Coyote engineered relationships with 14 departments of State which began to use artists in a variety of capacities, paying 50 cents on the dollar for it, to boot. It was an immense success and gave him the confidence (after 12 years in the counter-culture) to try his hand at film-acting.
Film and television acting
In 1978, Coyote began acting again ("to shake the rust out") appearing in plays at San Francisco's award-winning Magic Theatre. While playing the lead in the World Premiere of Sam Shepard's True West, a Hollywood agent approached him, and his film career began in 1980 with Die Laughing. Coyote chose his stage name after a spiritual encounter with a coyote while under the influence of peyote. After telling the story to Rolling Thunder, who challenged him not to dismiss it as a hallucination, he took the name as a way of honoring the encounter. He did supporting roles in Tell Me a Riddle, 1981's Southern Comfort, and as the mysterious scientist "Keys" in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). In 1980 he was seriously considered for the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and indeed auditioned for the part. Coyote's first starring role was in the 1982 science fiction adventure Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, "Outrageous Fortune" and "The Jagged Edge" Since then, he has done over 120 films for theaters and television and has played starring roles for many directors, including Roman Polanski (Bitter Moon), Pedro Almodovar (Kika), Martin Ritt (Cross Creek), Jean-Paul Rappeneau (Bon Voyage), Diane Kurys (A Man in Love), Walter Salles (Exposure).
As Leonard Maltin once wrote, "Coyote's no rubber-stamp leading man", but he seems comfortable with that. "I'm a Zen Buddhist student first, actor second", Coyote has said. "If I can't reconcile the two lives, I'll stop acting. I spend more time off-screen than on." In addition to his movie work in more recent films such as Sphere, A Walk to Remember, and Erin Brockovich, Coyote has also appeared in many made-for-TV movies and miniseries, and he does commercial voice-overs. Coyote was cast in lead roles on several television series: The 4400 in 2004 and The Inside in 2005. After The Inside was canceled, Coyote returned to The 4400 as a special guest star for their two-part season finale, then joined the cast of ABC's series Commander in Chief as a Vice-Presidential nominee and the next year did a four episode turn as Sally Field's disreputable boyfriend in Brothers & Sisters.
Also in 2005, Coyote served as the narrator for several prominent projects including the documentary film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the National Geographic-produced PBS documentary based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. He also narrated an episode of the series Lost in April 2006. In 2008, he narrated Torturing Democracy, a documentary produced by PBS which details the Bush administration's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the War on Terror. He also narrated the 12-hour Ken Burns series on the National Parks, and 15 episodes for the National Geographic Explorer series.
As a writer, Coyote has a mythopoetic style reminiscent of Michael Ventura, the product of many years of self-examination. Peter Coyote's left-wing politics are evident in his articles for Mother Jones magazine, some of which he wrote as a delegate to the 1996 Democratic National Convention; in his disagreements with David Horowitz; and in his autobiography Sleeping Where I Fall. In 2006, he developed a political television show for Link TV called "The Active Opposition" and in 2007 created Outside the Box with Peter Coyote starting on Link TV's special, Special: The End of Oil - Part 2.
Many of Coyote's stories from the 1967 to 1975 counter-culture period are included in his memoir, Sleeping Where I Fall, published by Counterpoint Press in April 1998. One of the stories incorporated into his book is "Carla's Story," about a 16-year-old mother who lived communally with Coyote, and who, after learning of her husband's murder, became a drug addict, then a prostitute, had her children stolen, and continued to spiral downhill until she turned her life around. This story was published in ZYZZYVA and awarded the 1993–1994 Pushcart Prize. He also states he was a close friend of singer Janis Joplin. Mr. Coyote has a website at www.petercoyote.com which features the titles of all his movies and extended samples of much of his writing. He is a member at RedRoom.com, a web-site for authors.
- Rome: Power & Glory
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1988)
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
- Contrary Warriors
- The Breathtaker by Alice Blanchard
- The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda
- The West executive produced by Ken Burns (1996)
Survivors of the Skeleton Coast (1997)
- The History of Sex (1999)
- National Geographic: The Battle For Midway Prod by Michael Rosenfeld (1999)
- In the Light of Reverence (2001)
- Color of War
- Out of the Blue
- The Shapes of Life: Origins (2002)
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Voice of Knowledge : A Practical Guide to Inner Peace (Toltec Wisdom) by Don Miguel Ruiz (2004)
- Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
- Understanding: Extraterrestrials
- The Tribe
- Guns, Germs, and Steel (2005)
- National Geographic: The Gospel of Judas Prod by Michael Rosenfeld (2006)
- The War Prayer (2006)
- Hippies (2007)
- Wings of Thunder: A portrait of life
- Stealing America: Vote by Vote (2008)
- Torturing Democracy (2008)
- Illicit: The Dark Trade (2008)
- National Geographic Explorer : The Virus Hunter (2009)
- The National Parks: America's Best Idea directed by Ken Burns (2009)
- Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League (2009)
- The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players (2010)
- Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle autobiography by Peter Coyote; 1998 ISBN 1-58243-011-X
- Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps by Emmett Grogan; 1990
Television and film actor
- Die Laughing (1980) .... Davis
- Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982) .... Porter Reese
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) .... Keys
- Heartbreakers (1984) .... Blue
- The Legend of Billie Jean (1985) .... Detective Ringwald
- Jagged Edge (1985) .... Thomas Kasny
- The Blue Yonder (1985) .... Max Knickerbocker
- Outrageous Fortune (1987) .... Michael Sanders
- Un homme amoureux (1987) .... Steve Elliott
- Heart of Midnight (1988) .... Sharpe/Larry
- A Grande Arte (1991) .... Peter Mandrake
- Bitter Moon (1992) .... Oscar
- Kika (1993) .... Nicholas
- Breach of Conduct (1994) .... Col. Andrew Case
- Moonlight and Valentino (1995) .... Paul
- Buffalo Girls (1995) .... Buffalo Bill Cody
- Unforgettable (1996) .... Don Bresler
- Murder in My Mind (1997) .... Arthur Lefcourt
- Sphere (1998) .... Captain Harold C. Barnes
- Patch Adams (1998) .... Bill Davis
- Erin Brockovich (2000) .... Kurt Potter
- Jack the Dog (2001) .... Alfred Stieglitz
- Femme Fatale (2002) .... Watts
- A Walk to Remember (2002) ... Reverend Sullivan
- Bon voyage (2003) .... Alex Winckler
- Grand ro´le, Le (2004) .... Rudolph Grichenberg
- Deadwood (2004) .... General Crook
- The Inside (2005) .... Special Agent Virgil \"Web\" Webster
- Deepwater (2005) .... Herman Finch
- Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis (2005) .... Uncle Charles
- Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave (2006) .... Uncle Charles
- Commander in Chief (2005 - 2006) .... Warren Keaton
- The 4400 (2004 - 2006) .... Dennis Ryland
- Behind Enemy Lines II (2006) .... President Adair T. Manning
- Brothers & Sisters (2007) .... Mark August
- Five Dollars a Day (2008) .... Bert Kruger
- Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief .... US President Sterling
- All Roads Lead Home (2008) .... Hock
- NCIS (2008) .... Ned Quinn
- FlashForward (2009).... President Dave Segovia
- The Story of Bonnie and Clyde (2010) .... Smoot Schmid
- Law & Order: Los Angeles (2010- ) .... District Attorney Jerry Hardin
- Official Website, Biography
- Peter Coyote Biography (1942-)
- j. - Peter Coyote - 'an outsider with a Jewish sense of humor'
- j. - Tie Dayenu
- Peter Coyote Bio, Jack Magazine. Accessed November 25, 2007. "At fourteen he was a campaign worker in the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign in his home town of Englewood New Jersey."
- "Susie Nelson's other son," Al Wheless, The Daily Dispatch, Henderson, North Carolina, April 29, 2008.
- Overview: who were (are) the Diggers?
- Digger Virtual Free Store
- The Free-Fall Chronicles: Elsa's Story
- Peter Coyote: Hollywood Radical
- Official website
- Peter Coyote at the Internet Movie Database
- Peter Coyote at TV.com
- The Diggers Archives
- The Free-Fall Chronicles excerpts from Sleeping Where I Fall
- Heyoka Magazine Interview with John LeKay