In "Apocalypse Now," Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War epic, Bottoms played pro surfer-turned-soldier Lance B. Johnson, who takes to the waves amid bombs and bullets under the orders of the maniacal, surfing-mad Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore played by Robert Duvall.
"He was a handsome, tall young man and very sweet-natured and seemed to be right for that part," Coppola said Wednesday. "Sam was a good actor. Of course, he comes from a family that had a lot of theatrical activity."
In his 1971 film debut, a 15-year-old Bottoms starred alongside his best-known brother, Timothy, in "The Last Picture Show," playing a mute and mentally handicapped boy forced by friends to lose his virginity to a prostitute.
Sam Bottoms said he was in Texas to visit his brother, who was the film's lead, when director Peter Bogdanovich saw him and cast him in the part.
Brothers Joseph and Ben are also actors.
Sam Bottoms was born in Santa Barbara in 1955, the third of four sons of sculptor James "Bud" Bottoms. He began acting in local theater at age 10.
After his 1970s films, Sam Bottoms went on to appear in the Clint Eastwood westerns "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Bronco Billy," and Coppola's 1987 Vietnam film "Gardens of Stone."
He more recently appeared in the films "Seabiscuit" and "Shopgirl."
He is survived by his three brothers, his parents and his wife.