Redford was born on August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California to Martha W. (née Hart; 1914–55) and Charles Robert Redford, Sr. (1914–91), a milkman-turned-accountant. He has a stepbrother, William, from his father's remarriage. Redford is of English, Irish, Scottish, and Scots-Irish ancestry (his surname originates in England).
Redford's family moved to Van Nuys, California, while his father worked in El Segundo. He attended Van Nuys High School, where he was classmates with baseball pitcher Don Drysdale. He has described himself as having been a "bad" student, finding inspiration outside the classroom, and being interested in art and sports. He hit tennis balls with Pancho Gonzales at the Los Angeles Tennis Club to warm him up.
After graduating from high school in 1954, he attended the University of Colorado in Boulder for a year and a half, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. While there, he worked at the restaurant/bar The Sink; a painting of his likeness is prominent in the bar's murals. While at Colorado, Redford began drinking heavily, and as a result lost his half-scholarship and was kicked out of school. Later he traveled in Europe, living in France, Spain, and Italy. He later studied painting at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and took classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
Redford's career, like that of almost all major stars who emerged in the 1950s, began in New York City, where an actor could find work both in television and on stage. Starting in 1960, he appeared as a guest star on numerous programs, including Naked City, The Untouchables, The Americans, Whispering Smith, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, Playhouse 90, Tate, The Twilight Zone, and "Captain Brassbound's Conversion" with a young Christopher Plummer, among others.
In 1960, Redford was cast as Danny Tilford, a mentally disturbed young man trapped in the wreckage of his family garage, in "Breakdown", one of the last episodes of the syndicated adventure series, Rescue 8, starring Jim Davis and Lang Jeffries.
Redford earned an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Voice of Charlie Pont (ABC, 1962). One of his last television appearances was on October 7, 1963, on Breaking Point, an ABC medical drama about psychiatry.
Redford's Broadway debut was in a small role in Tall Story (1959), followed by parts in The Highest Tree (1959) and Sunday in New York (1961). His biggest Broadway success was as the stuffy newlywed husband of Elizabeth Ashley in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park (1963).
Redford in Barefoot in the Park, 1967
Redford made his screen debut in Tall Story (1960). It was a minor role. The stars of the film were Anthony Perkins, Jane Fonda (her debut), and Ray Walston. The film was about a college basketball star, played by Perkins, who gets himself into trouble debating as to whether or not he should accept a bribe to throw a basketball game against a team from Russia. After his Broadway success, he was cast in larger feature roles in movies. In 1962 Robert Redford got his second film role in War Hunt. He was cast alongside screen legend Alec Guinness in the war comedy Situation Hopeless ... But Not Serious, in which he played a soldier who has to spend years of his life hiding behind enemy lines. In Inside Daisy Clover (1965), which won him a Golden Globe for best new star, he played a bisexual movie star who marries starlet Natalie Wood, and rejoined her along with Charles Bronson for Pollack's This Property Is Condemned (1966)—again as her lover, though this time in a film which achieved even greater success. The same year saw his first teaming (on equal footing) with Jane Fonda, in Arthur Penn's The Chase. This film marked the only time Redford would star with Marlon Brando. Fonda and Redford were paired again in the popular big-screen version of Barefoot in the Park (1967) and were again co-stars much later in Pollack's The Electric Horseman (1979).
After this initial success, Redford became concerned about his blond male stereotype image and turned down roles in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. Redford found the niche he was looking for in George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), scripted by William Goldman, in which he was paired for the first time with Paul Newman. The film was a huge success and made him a major bankable star, cementing his screen image as an intelligent, reliable, sometimes sardonic good guy.
Redford suffered through a few films that did not achieve box office success during this time, including Downhill Racer (1969); Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969); Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970), and The Hot Rock (1972). But his overall career was flourishing with the critical and box office hit Jeremiah Johnson (1972); the political satire The Candidate (1972); the hugely popular period drama The Way We Were (1973); and the biggest hit of his career, the blockbuster crime caper The Sting (1973), which became one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation and for which he was also nominated for an Oscar.
Between 1974 and 1976, exhibitors voted Redford Hollywood's top box-office name. His hits included The Great Gatsby (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), and Three Days of the Condor (1975). The popular and acclaimed All the President's Men (1976), directed by Alan J. Pakula and scripted once again by Goldman, was a landmark film for Redford. Not only was he the executive producer and co-star, but the film's serious subject matter—the Watergate scandal—and its attempt to create a realistic portrayal of journalism, also reflected the actor's offscreen concerns for political causes.
He also appeared in a segment of the war film A Bridge Too Far (1977) before starring in the prison drama Brubaker (1980), playing a prison warden attempting to reform the system, and the baseball drama The Natural (1984). Redford continued his involvement in mainstream Hollywood movies, though with a newfound focus on directing. The first film he directed, Ordinary People, which followed the disintegration of an upper-class American family after the death of a son, was one of the most critically and publicly acclaimed films of the decade, winning four Oscars, including Best Director for Redford himself, and Best Picture. His follow-up directorial project, The Milagro Beanfield War (1987), failed to generate the same level of attention. Sydney Pollack's Out of Africa (1985), with Redford in the male lead role opposite Meryl Streep, became an enormous critical and box office success and won seven Oscars including Best Picture, proving to be Redford's biggest success of the decade and Redford and Pollack's most successful of their six movies together. His next film, Legal Eagles (1986), was only a minor success at the box office.
Redford continued as a major star throughout the 1990s and 2000s. He released his third film as a director, A River Runs Through It, in 1992, which was a return to mainstream success for Redford as a director and brought a young Brad Pitt to greater prominence. In 1993, Redford played what became one of his most popular and recognized roles, starring in Indecent Proposal as a millionaire businessman who tests a couple's morals; the film became one of the year's biggest hits. He co-starred with Michelle Pfeiffer in the newsroom romance Up Close & Personal (1996), and with Kristin Scott Thomas in The Horse Whisperer (1998), which he also directed. Redford also continued work in films with political context, such as Havana (1990), playing Jack Weil, a professional gambler in 1959 Cuba during the Revolution, as well as Sneakers (1992), in which he co-starred with River Phoenix among others.
He appeared as a disgraced Army general sent to prison in the prison drama The Last Castle (2001), directed by Rod Lurie. In the same year, Redford reteamed with Brad Pitt for Spy Game, another success for the pair but with Redford switching this time from director to actor. Redford, a leading environmental activist, narrated the IMAX documentary Sacred Planet (2004), a sweeping journey across the globe to some of its most exotic and endangered places. In The Clearing (2004), a thriller co-starring Helen Mirren, Redford was a successful businessman whose kidnapping unearths the secrets and inadequacies that led to his achieving the American Dream.
Redford stepped back into producing with The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), a coming-of-age road film about a young medical student, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and his friend Alberto Granado. It also explored political and social issues of South America that influenced Guevara and shaped his future. With five years spent on the film's making, Redford was credited by director Walter Salles for being instrumental in getting it made and released.
Back in front of the camera, Redford received good notices for his role in director Lasse Hallstrom's An Unfinished Life (2005) as a cantankerous rancher who is forced to take in his estranged daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez)—whom he blames for his son's death—and the granddaughter he never knew he had when they fled an abusive relationship. The film, which sat on the shelf for many months while its distributor Miramax was restructured, was generally dismissed as cliched and overly sentimental. Meanwhile, Redford returned to familiar territory when he reteamed with Meryl Streep 22 years after they starred in Out of Africa, for his personal project Lions for Lambs (2007), which also starred fellow superstar Tom Cruise. After a great deal of hype, the film opened to mixed reviews and disappointing box office. Redford more recently signed on to direct and star in an update of The Candidate.
Redford appeared in the 2011 documentary Buck, where he discussed his experiences with title subject Buck Brannaman during the production of The Horse Whisperer. In 2012, Redford directed and starred in The Company You Keep, about a former Weather Underground activist who goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity. In 2013, he starred in All Is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor, about a man lost at sea. He received very high acclaim for his performance in the film, in which he is its only cast member and there is almost no dialogue. In April 2014, Redford appeared in the Marvel Studios super hero film Captain America: The Winter Soldier playing Alexander Pierce, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and leader of the Hydra cell operating the Triskelion.
On November 10, 2016, Redford told Dylan Redford, his grandson, that he’ll retire from acting after his next two movies are finished. But Redford's publicist told Deadline that he's not retiring from acting anytime soon, explaining that: "he has several projects coming down the pike."  One of those projects is Pete's Dragon, a remake of the 1977 Disney film. Redford plays Mr. Meacham, an old wood carver who once met a dragon.
Career as a Film Director
Redford had long harbored ambitions to work on both sides of the camera. As early as 1969, Redford had served as the executive producer for Downhill Racer. His first film as director was 1980's Best Picture winner Ordinary People, a drama about the slow disintegration of an upper-middle class family, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. Redford was credited with obtaining a powerful dramatic performance from Mary Tyler Moore, as well as superb work from Donald Sutherland and Timothy Hutton, who also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Redford did not direct again until The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), a well-crafted, though not commercially successful, screen version of John Nichols' acclaimed novel of the Southwest. The Milagro Beanfield War is the story of the people of Milagro, New Mexico (based on the real town of Truchas in northern New Mexico), overcoming big developers who set about to ruin their community and force them out because of tax increases. Other directorial projects have included the period drama A River Runs Through It (1992), based on Norman Maclean's novella, and the exposé Quiz Show (1994), about the quiz show scandal of the late 1950s. In the latter film, Redford worked from a screenplay by Paul Attanasio with noted cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and a strong cast that featured Paul Scofield, John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes. Redford handpicked Morrow for his part in the film (Morrow's only high-profile feature film role to date), because he liked his work on Northern Exposure. Redford also directed Matt Damon and Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000). In 2010, Redford released The Conspirator, a period drama revolving around the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Despite a subject matter of personal interest to Redford, the film received mixed reviews and proved to be a flop at the box office.
U.S. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush pose with the Kennedy Center honorees, from left to right, actress Julie Harris, actor Robert Redford, singer Tina Turner, ballet dancer Suzanne Farrell and singer Tony Bennett on December 4, 2005, during the reception in the Blue Room at the White House.
In 1989, the National Audubon Society awarded Redford its highest honor, the
In 1995, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Bard College. He was a 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award/Honorary Oscar recipient at the 74th Academy Awards.
In 1996, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
In December 2005, he received the Kennedy Center Honors for his contributions to American culture. The honors recipients are recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts: whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television.
In 2008, he was awarded The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the arts, given annually to "a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life."
The University of Southern California (USC) School of Dramatic Arts announced the first annual Robert Redford Award for Engaged Artists in 2009. According to the school's web site, the award was created "to honor those who have distinguished themselves not only in the exemplary quality, skill and innovation of their work, but also in their public commitment to social responsibility, to increasing awareness of global issues and events, and to inspiring and empowering young people."
Redford received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Brown University at the 240th Commencement exercises on May 25, 2008. He also spoke during the ceremonies.
On October 14, 2010, he was appointed chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. He was a 2010 recipient of the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts
On May 24, 2015, Redford delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. On November 22, 2016, President Barack Obama honored Redford with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
With the financial proceeds of his acting success, starting with his salaries from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Downhill Racer, Redford bought an entire ski area on the east side of Mount Timpanogos northeast of Provo, Utah, called "Timp Haven", which was renamed "Sundance". Redford's wife Lola was from Utah and they had built a home in the area in 1963. Portions of the movie Jeremiah Johnson (1972), a film which is both one of Redford's favorites and one that has heavily influenced him, were shot near the ski area. He founded the Sundance Institute, Sundance Cinemas, Sundance Catalog, and the Sundance Channel, all in and around Park City, Utah, 30 miles (48 km) north of the Sundance ski area. The Sundance Film Festival caters to independent filmmakers in the United States and has received recognition from the industry as a place to open films. In 2008, Sundance exhibited 125 feature-length films from 34 countries, with more than 50,000 attendees. The name Sundance comes from his Sundance Kid character. Redford also owned a restaurant called Zoom, located on Main Street in the former mining town of Park City, until its closure in May 2017.
Since founding the nonprofit Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah, in 1981, Redford has been deeply involved with independent film. Through its various workshop programs and popular film festival, Sundance has provided much-needed support for independent filmmakers. In 1995, Redford signed a deal with Showtime to start a 24-hour cable television channel devoted to airing independent films. The Sundance Channel premiered on February 29, 1996.
On September 12, 1958, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Redford married Lola Van Wagenen, who dropped out of college to marry him. They had four children: Scott Anthony (September 1, 1959 – November 17, 1959), Shauna Jean (born November 15, 1960), David James "Jamie" (born May 5, 1962), and Amy Hart Redford (born October 22, 1970). Lola and Redford divorced in 1985.
Scott Redford died of sudden infant death syndrome at the age of 2½ months and is buried at Provo City Cemetery in Provo, Utah. Shauna Redford is a painter and married to journalist Eric Schlosser. Jamie Redford is a writer and producer, while Amy Redford is an actress, director, and producer. In 1994 Jamie, suffering from liver disease, had a liver transplant. Redford has seven grandchildren.
In July 2009, Redford married his longtime partner, Sibylle Szaggars, at the Louis C. Jacob Hotel in Hamburg, Germany. She had moved in with Redford in the 1990s and shared his home in Sundance, Utah.
In May 2011, Alfred A. Knopf published Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan, written over fifteen years with Redford's input and drawn from his personal papers and diaries.
Redford supports environmentalism, Native American rights, LGBT rights, and the arts. He has also supported advocacy groups, such as the Political Action Committee of the Directors Guild of America. Redford has on occasion also supported Republicans, including Brent Cornell Morris in his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for Utah's 3rd congressional district in 1990. Redford also supported Gary Herbert, another Republican and a friend, in Herbert's successful 2004 campaign to be elected Utah's Lieutenant Governor. Herbert later became Governor of Utah. Redford is an avid environmentalist and is a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He endorsed Democratic President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012. Redford is the first quote on the back cover of Donald Trump's book "Crippled America" saying of Trump “I’m glad he’s in there, being the way he is." But Redford's comment was intended to be sarcastic, as the rest of the comment follows, "He’s got such a big foot in his mouth I’m not sure you could get it out.”
Redford is opposed to the TransCanada Corporation's Keystone Pipeline. In
2013, he was identified by its CEO, Russ Girling, for leading the anti-pipeline
In April 2014, Redford, a Pitzer College Trustee, and Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley announced that the college will divest fossil fuel stocks from its endowment; at the time, it was the higher education institution with the largest endowment in the US to make this commitment. The press conference was held at the LA Press Club. In November 2012, Pitzer launched the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College. The Redford Conservancy educates the next generation of students to create solutions for the most challenging and urgent sustainability problems..