'Last of the Mohicans' Actor Russell Means Dies at 72

Russell Means - P 2012
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Russell Means - P 2012

The American Indian activist who acted in films and TV shows died Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D.

Russell Means, a former American Indian Movement activist and actor in such films as The Last of the Mohicans, died Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D. He was 72.

The Associated Press confirmed Means' death with a spokesperson for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Means revealed in August 2011 that he had inoperable throat cancer, and according to the AP, was bypassing mainstream medical treatments in favor of American Indian remedies and other alternative cancer treatments.

"I'm not going to argue with the Great Mystery," he said. "Lakota belief is that death is a change of worlds. And I believe like my dad believed. When it's my time to go, it's my time to go."

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Means led the American Indian Movement's uprising at Wounded Knee in 1973 in which the group took up arms to occupy the South Dakota town. Two Native American activists were killed and a federal agent was paralyzed.

AIM began in the late 1960s to challenge the government's treatment of Native Americans, inspired by the African-American civil rights movement, and, as an activist for the cause, Means invited national attention and controversy.

The organization attracted Hollywood supporters, most notably actor Marlon Brando.

To show support for AIM, Brando, in consultation with Means, had Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather accept his 1972 best actor Oscar for his role in The Godfather.

He also launched an acting career beginning in 1992 with a leading role in The Last of the Mohicans opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, followed by parts in Natural Born Killers (1994) and in Disney's animated Pocahontas (1995), voicing Chief Powhatan.

His TV credits include appearances in Nash Bridges, Into the West and HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2004.

Means ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket.

George McGovern, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota who died Sunday at age 90 in Sioux Falls, had been involved in negotations to end AIM's occupation of Wounded Knee along with fellow senator James Abourezk.

"I've lost two good friends in a matter of two to three days," Abourezk told the AP on Monday. "I don't pretend to understand it."