Peter Coyote

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Peter Coyote
Coyote in 2019
Robert Peter Cohon[1]

(1941-10-10) October 10, 1941 (age 82)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materGrinnell College, B.A. 1964
San Francisco State University
  • Actor
  • director
  • screenwriter
  • author
  • narrator
Years active1967–present
Marilyn McCann
(m. 1975; div. 1998)
Stefanie Pleet
(m. 1998; div. 2015)

Peter Coyote (born Robert Peter Cohon; October 10, 1941) is an American actor, director, screenwriter, author and narrator of films, theatre, television, and audiobooks. He worked on films, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Cross Creek (1983), Jagged Edge (1985), Bitter Moon (1992), Kika (1993), Patch Adams (1998), Erin Brockovich (2000), A Walk to Remember (2002) and Femme Fatale (2002).

His voice work includes his narration for the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics. He narrated the PBS series The Pacific Century (1992), winning an Emmy. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Narrator in 2015 for his work on Ken Burns's documentary miniseries The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.[3]

Coyote was one of the founders of the Diggers, an anarchist improv group active in Haight-Ashbury during the mid-1960s, including the Summer of Love.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Coyote was born Robert Peter Cohon on October 10, 1941,[1][6] in New York City, the son of Ruth (née Fidler) and Morris Cohon, an investment banker.[7] 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, escaped being drafted into the Imperial Russian Army, and eventually ran a small candy store in the Bronx.[8] Coyote "was raised in a highly intellectual, cultural but unreligious family",[8] involved in left-wing politics.[9] He grew up in Englewood, New Jersey,[10] and graduated from Dwight Morrow High School there in 1960. Coyote later said that he was "half black and half white inside" due to the strong influence of Susie Nelson, his family's African-American housekeeper.[11] Coyote is the maternal uncle of librarian Jessamyn West.[12]

While a student at Grinnell College, Iowa, in 1961, Coyote was one of the organizers of a group of twelve students who traveled to Washington, D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis supporting 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.[6] He was also in a band called the Kittatinny Mountain Boys.[13]

Upon graduation from Grinnell with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature in 1964,[6] he moved to the West Coast, despite having been accepted at the Iowa Writers' Workshop,[6] and commenced working toward a master's degree in creative writing at San Francisco State University.[6]

Name change[edit]

While still at Grinnell, Coyote ingested peyote and had a profound experience with something he recognized as an animal spirit. At the next dawn he came to in a cornfield dotted with paw-prints. A few years later, he came across Coyote's Journal, a poetry magazine, and recognized its logo as the same paw-prints he had seen during his peyote experience. After meeting Rolling Thunder (John Pope), a purported Paiute-Shoshone shaman, who informed him that there were two ways to regard what he had experienced. "You could consider it a hallucination", he said, "and you'll just remain a white man and be ok. Or, you could consider that the Universe opened itself to you, and if you consider it deeply enough, you might become a human being." Peter considered what he had been saying for several months, and then changed his last name to Coyote, as the first step towards understanding its significance. The immediate, unanticipated consequence, was that no one, not even Peter knew who Peter Coyote was, and he was liberated from his personal history. From that point on, he never knew "where the rabbit would break from the brush".[14]

Countercultural activities[edit]

After a short apprenticeship at the San Francisco Actor's 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,[6] a controversial play closed by authorities in several cities.[15]

From 1967 to 1975, Coyote was a prominent member of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury counterculture 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.[16] They created provocative "theater" events designed to heighten awareness of problems associated with the notion 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,[17][18] (where not only the goods, but the management roles were free), a Free Medical Clinic, and even a short-lived Free Bank.[16] 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.[19]

Discovering Zen[edit]

Coyote had first discovered Zen in his teens via the works of Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and other Beats. Coyote met Snyder with the Diggers and was impressed with Snyder's "gravitas and elegance, his care and deliberation".[18][20]

In 1975, Coyote undertook meditation practice and eventually became a dedicated practitioner of American Zen Buddhism, moving into the San Francisco Zen Center.[20][21] He was later ordained a lay priest in the Sōtō tradition and was ordained as a Zen Priest in 2015.[20][22][23]

Coyote performed audiobook recordings of Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Paul Reps's Zen Flesh, Zen Bones as well as narrating the documentary Inquiry into the Great Matter: A History of Zen Buddhism.[21][24]

Film and television acting[edit]

In 1978, Coyote began acting again ("to shake the rust out") appearing in plays at San Francisco's award-winning Magic Theatre. While he was playing the lead in the world premiere of Sam Shepard's True West, a Hollywood agent approached him, and his film career began with Die Laughing (1980). He gave supporting performances in Tell Me a Riddle (1980), Southern Comfort (1981), and as the mysterious scientist "Keys" in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). He was seriously considered for the role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and auditioned for the part. Coyote's first starring role was in the science fiction adventure Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982). He also starred in Jagged Edge (1985) and Outrageous Fortune (1987). Since then, he has made more than 120 films for theaters and television and has played starring roles for many directors, including Roman Polanski (Bitter Moon), Pedro Almodóvar (Kika), Martin Ritt (Cross Creek), Jean-Paul Rappeneau (Bon Voyage), Diane Kurys (A Man in Love), and Walter Salles (Exposure). For his 1990 guest appearance on the television series Road to Avonlea, he received his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination.

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-television 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 the Vice President of the United States, and the next year did a four-episode turn as Sally Field's disreputable boyfriend in Brothers & Sisters.


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 George W. 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. In 2010 he narrated the documentary Solitary Confinement on the effect of long-term isolation, with footage taken from Colorado State Penitentiary where all prisoners are held this way. In 2014, he appeared in the TNT television series Perception, as the father of the main character, Dr. Daniel Pierce, and narrated Burns' The Roosevelts: An Intimate History; the latter saw him win his first Primetime Emmy Award. In 2019, he narrated Burns' PBS documentary Country Music.[25] Most recently he has provided narration for a number of commercials produced by The Lincoln Project.[26]


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, Coyote 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. Coyote has a website,[27] which features the titles of all his movies and extended samples of much of his writing. He is a member at, a website for authors.[28]

In April 2015, his memoir The Rainman's Third Cure: An Irregular Education was released, where he "provides portraits of mentors that shaped him—including his violent, intimidating father, a bass player, a Mafia Consiglieri, and beat poet Gary Snyder, who introduced him to the practice of Zen."[29]

In September 2021, Four Way Books released a collection of Coyote's poetry entitled Tongue of a Crow.[30] The poems span five decades and cover his life as "an activist, actor and Zen Buddhist priest."[30]




"List of Peter Coyote documentaries".



  • Emmett Grogan (1990) Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps, autobiography


  1. ^ a b Contemporary Authors Online (2002) Gale, Detroit
  2. ^ "Peter Coyote", Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television Vol. 57 (2004) Gale, Detroit
  3. ^ "Peter Coyote". Archived from the original on July 28, 2017. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  4. ^ "Peter Coyote's Biography". redroom. Archived from the original on February 20, 2014. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  5. ^ "Spring 2004 Newsletter". Archived from the original on December 20, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Official Website, Biography". October 10, 1941. Archived from the original on January 18, 2021. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  7. ^ "Peter Coyote profile at Film". Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Peter Coyote: 'an outsider with a Jewish sense of humor'". January 9, 1998. Archived from the original on April 30, 2008. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  9. ^ "Tie Dayenu". Archived from the original on April 10, 2008. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  10. ^ Peter Coyote biodata Archived September 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, 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."
  11. ^ "The Daily Dispatch – April 29, 2008". April 29, 2008. Archived from the original on December 4, 2020. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
  12. ^ "ELIZABETH WEST Obituary (2017) – Boxborough, MA – Boston Globe". July 22, 2017. Archived from the original on September 20, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  13. ^ Peter Coyote (April 1, 2015). The Rainman's Third Cure: An Irregular Education. Catapult. pp. 108–. ISBN 978-1-61902-635-3. Archived from the original on May 3, 2022. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  14. ^ "Krassner reviews 'Sleeping Where I Fall' by Peter Coyote" (Sep/Oct 1999) Tikkun Vol.14 No.5 pp. 71-74
  15. ^ "Mime Troupe Gets Injunction, Acclaim" (6 Feb 1968) Los Angeles Times
  16. ^ a b "Overview: who were (are) the Diggers?". Archived from the original on October 4, 2018. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  17. ^ "Digger Virtual Free Store". October 14, 1967. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  18. ^ a b David Kupfer. "Against The Grain: Peter Coyote On Buddhism, Capitalism, And The Enduring Legacy Of The Sixties". The Sun (426). Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  19. ^ "The Free-Fall Chronicles: Elsa's Story". June 8, 1996. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  20. ^ a b c "Peter Hosho Jishi Coyote" (Interview). Interviewed by Sweeping Zen. June 16, 2008. Archived from the original on October 13, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  21. ^ a b "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones". Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  22. ^ "Peter Coyote lay ordained in Mill Valley, CA". Cuke Sangha News. April 22, 2007. Archived from the original on July 17, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  23. ^ Joyce Kleiner (February 15, 2012). "Coyote reflects on wild dogs and the next 1,000 years". The Mill Valley Herald. Archived from the original on May 22, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  24. ^ "Inquiry into the Great Matter: A History of Zen Buddhism". Archived from the original on May 13, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  25. ^ "Country Music | A Film by Ken Burns". Country Music. Archived from the original on January 29, 2021. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  26. ^ "Tide". YouTube.
  27. ^ "Peter Coyote's website". Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  28. ^ " - Earn Money - Save Money - Multiply Money". Archived from the original on March 2, 2012.
  29. ^ "Peter Coyote's Path From Street Theater To the Big Screen to Zen". WNYC. April 23, 2015. Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
  30. ^ a b Peterson, Diane (October 8, 2021). "'An entire lifetime': Peter Coyote publishes 50 years of poems in 'Tongue of a Crow'". The Press Democrat. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  31. ^ "Documentaries". Archived from the original on September 29, 2017. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  32. ^ "For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska Production Team". Archived from the original on April 13, 2014. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  33. ^ "ABOUT "I am fishead" MOVIE". Archived from the original on December 16, 2010. Retrieved February 1, 2001.

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