Sacheen Littlefeather, who declined Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf, dead at 75

NOVATO, Calif. — Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather, the actress who made headlines when she declined an Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf at the 1973 Academy Awards, has died at age 75, multiple news outlets are reporting.

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According to USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter, Littlefeather’s caretaker and family said she died Sunday at her Novato, California, home. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also shared the news on Twitter.

Littlefeather’s death came 4 1/2 years after she revealed she was battling breast cancer, according to the Reporter.

In June, Academy President David Rubin acknowledged in a letter that Littlefeather was mistreated and harassed following her 60-second speech for Brando, who refused his best actor Oscar for “The Godfather” because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry,” The Associated Press previously reported.

“I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards,” the letter began. “As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.”

The letter continued: “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. 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.”

Littlefeather, who was booed by some audience members at the ceremony and drew the ire of John Wayne, said she faced personal attacks and discrimination after her appearance, the AP reported.

“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years!” Littlefeather quipped in a statement shared in an Aug. 15 Academy news release. “We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

The Academy also hosted a Sept. 17 event, dubbed “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather,” which featured the activist and focused on “conversation, reflection, healing and celebration.”

“I never thought I’d live to see the day for this program to take place,” Littlefeather said in the August statement, calling the event “a dream come true.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.