Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who was famously enlisted by Marlon Brando to turn down his Oscar for The Godfather (1972) on live television, died Sunday, October 2, 2022, at her Marin County, California home.
She was 75.
Littlefeather had previously announced she had terminal cancer, but no cause of death was offered, The New York Times reports.
Littlefeather died weeks after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized to her for her treatment on that evening in 1973, when she was booed (and cheered) while earnestly reading from a speech given her by Brando, a casual acquaintance, which touched on the unfair treatment of Native Americans throughout history by the U.S.
When the Academy apologized, Littlefeather told THR in August she was "stunned," going on to say, "I never thought I'd live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this."
In her speech — actor John Wayne (1907-1979) was often, perhaps apocryphally, described as having wanted to attack her, held back by six security guards — Littlefeather said, “I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity."
As her life came to an end, Littlefeather saw the apology she received nearly 50 years later as "the sacred circle ... completing itself."
Littlefeather was born Marie Cruz on November 14, 1946, in Salinas, California. Part Apache and Yaqui, part French, German and Dutch, she changed her name as a young adult to better reflect her identity. She also participated in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 before embarking upon a largely unsuccessful acting career.
Acting in credited parts in the movies Counselor at Crime (1973; see above), The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), Johnny Firecloud (1975), Winterhawk (1975) and Shoot the Sun Down (1978), she gave up on the profession early on.
In September of 2022, Littlefeather appeared at an Academy-sponsored program entitled An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather, at which she said her Oscars speech was her way of representing "all Indigenous voices out there, all Indigenous people, because we had never been heard in that way before."
She said she had no regrets for having opened doors that "had to be open."
She also joked of the momentous occasion, "We are very patient people."