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Sacheen Littlefeather: Activist who rejected Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf dies aged 75

Sacheen Littlefeather speaks at the 45th Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando (Bettmann Archive)
Sacheen Littlefeather speaks at the 45th Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando (Bettmann Archive)

Actress Sacheen Littlefeather has died aged 75.

Littlefeather is best known for dramatically taking to the stage at the Oscars to decline Marlon Brando’s best actor gong in 1973.

The Academy of Motion Pictures announced the news on social media, writing: “Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75.”

The actor and activist had announced that she had been diagnosed with metastasised breast cancer in 2021.

However, the cause of death is unknown at this time.

In September, at a ceremony titled “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather”, she told the crowd: “I’m crossing over soon to the spirit world. And you know, I’m not afraid to die. Because we come from a we/us/our society. We don’t come from a me/I/myself society. And we learn to give away from a very young age. When we are honoured, we give.”

She provided one of the most dramatic and memorable moments in Oscars history in 1973.

As Brando’s name was read for winning best actor for his role in The Godfather, Littlefeather took to the stage wearing moccasins and a buckskin dress to politely offer his regrets for refusing the award because of Hollywood’s treatment and portrayal of Native Americans.

Her speech to decline the Oscar on behalf of Brando was met with a mixture of boos and cheers.

The Academy issued an apology to her earlier this year for the backlash she received following the speech.

“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” wrote Academy president David Rubin.

“The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

In response, the actor expressed happiness that her mistreatment had finally been acknowledged, stating: “This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.

“I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage.”

Littlefeather starred in films including The Laughing Policeman, The Trial of Billy Jack and Johnny Firecloud.

However, her acting career swiftly came to an end following her Oscars appearance. Her last role was in 1978’s Shoot the Sun Down.