Russell Means, Native American civil rights activist and an actor who appeared in such films as The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Song of Hiawatha (1997), died today, 22 October 2012. He was 72 years old. the cause was oesophageal cancer.
Russell Means was born 10 November 1939 on the the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was Oglala Sioux. He was three years old when his parents moved to San Francisco. He attended four colleges, including Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, but never graduated. His youth was filled with brushes with the law, including bouts with drug addiction and alcoholism. In the Sixties he held a variety of jobs, including janitor, cowboy, dance instructor, and printer. In 1969 he became employed with the Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota. Later in the year Russell Means moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he became the founding director of a centre that helped Native Americans adjust to life in the city.
Russell Means had first participated in protests for Native American civil rights in 1964 when he was part of the occupation of Alacatraz in 1964 alongside his father. In 1968 he joined the American Indian Movement (AIM). He became the national director of AIM in 1970. Over the years he would be involved in some of the more notable events in the Native American civil rights movement, including AIM's 1970 takeover of Mount Rushmore and the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.
Russell Means would begin his acting career in 1992, making his film debut as Chingachgook in Last of the Mohicans. In the Nineties he appeared in such films as Natural Born Killers (1994), Wagons East (1994), Windrunner (1995), Song of Hiawatha (1997), A League of Old Men (1998), Wind River (2000) , and Thomas & the Magic Railroad (2000). On television he appeared in the TV movie The Pathfinder and on the TV shows Touched by an Angel, Walker Texas Ranger, Profiler, Remember WENN, and Nash Bridges.
In the Naughts and Teens Russell Means appeared in such films as Cowboy Up (2001), 29 Palms (2002), Black Cloud (2004), Pathfinder (2007), Unearthed (2007), and Rez Bomb (2008). His last film, Tiger Eyes, will be released next year. He appeared in the mini-series Into the West, as well as the television shows Family Law and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Russell Means was a controversial figure even among Native Americans. That having been said, he did bring attention to the fight for Native American civil rights. As an actor he was quite good. He played a number of different roles over the years, from Chingachgook to providing the voice of Powhatan in Pocahontas (1995). He also proved equally adept at both comedy and drama. As both a civil rights activist and as an actor he won't soon be forgotten.