The answer has two words: Dirty Harry.
The question: why does Clint Eastwood deserve to be an ESM icon?
Born May 31, 1930, Clint Eastwood has played many roles idolized by men of multiple generations. From The Man with No Name, to Dirty Harry, to the Unforgiven, each movie has made Clint Eastwood a bigger, badder ESM Icon.
Just check the beard and the cowboy hat. How many dudes do you know can look as badass in those westerns than Clint Eastwood? How many dudes can say “Do you feel lucky?” and not seem like a douche? How many dudes can actually become a mayor of the town they live in without any political experience?
Here’s a little excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:
Eastwood was born in San Francisco, California, to Clinton Elias Eastwood Sr. (1906–1970), a steelworker and migrant worker, and Margaret Ruth Rutherford (1909–2006), a factory worker. He was a large baby (11 pounds and 6 ounces; 5.62 kg) and was named “Samson” by the nurses in the hospital. Eastwood has English, Scottish, Dutch, and Irish ancestry and was raised in a “middle class Protestant home”. His family moved often, as his father worked at different jobs along the West Coast, including at a pulp mill. The family settled in Piedmont, California, where Eastwood attended Piedmont Junior High School and Piedmont Senior High School. Later he transferred to Oakland Technical High School, where the drama teachers encouraged him to take part in school plays, but he was not interested. Eastwood held several jobs as he moved to different areas, including a paper carrier, grocer clerk, forest firefighter, and caddy.
After graduating high school in 1949, Eastwood intended to enter Seattle University and major in music, but in 1950, during the Korean War, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was stationed at Fort Ord where his certificate as a lifeguard got him appointed as a life-saving and swimming instructor. Eastwood safeguarded film and television actors who had joined the Army through the Special Services program, including John Saxon, David Janssen, and Martin Milner. In 1951, while on leave, Eastwood rode in a Douglas AD bomber that ran out of gas and crashed in the ocean near Point Reyes. After escaping the sinking fuselage, Eastwood and the pilot swam several miles to the shore.
Really? He survived a plane crash and swam to shore. Enough said.