Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American actress who famously declined Marlon Brandon’s best actor Oscar in 1973, has died. She was 75.
News of Littlefeather’s death was shared by the official Twitter account for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Her family confirmed in a statement to USA TODAY that Littlefeather died Sunday “peacefully at home” in Marin County, California, “surrounded by loved ones.”
Littlefeather, who was Apache and Yaqui, was born Marie Louise Cruz.
In 2018, Littlefeather revealed she was battling Stage 4 breast cancer.
Her death came weeks after she received a long-overdue apology from the Academy Awards. Nearly 50 years ago, the actress and activist rejected an Oscar on behalf of “The Godfather” star Brando, who boycotted the ceremony to protest Hollywood’s negative portrayals of Native Americans. Littlefeather delivered a speech on his behalf, which was roundly mocked and booed by many members of the audience.
In September, Littleweather was honored at “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather” at the Academy Museum. But Littlefeather had received a private apology from the Academy months prior in June.
“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,” read a letter of apology, signed by the Academy’s then-president, David Rubin. “For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather told The Hollywood Reporter last month that she was “stunned” to receive a formal apology.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” Littlefeather said. “When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone.”
Related:Sacheen Littlefeather apology is a reminder that Native Americans are still ‘left out’ in Hollywood
Littlefeather became the first Native American woman to speak on stage at the Oscars. Wearing a buckskin dress and moccasins, she delivered a 60-second speech explaining that Brando could not accept the award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
The 1973 Oscars were held during the American Indian Movement’s two-month occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, which Brando referenced in the speech she delivered. In the years since, Littlefeather said she had been discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief appearance.
On Sunday, the Academy shared a quote from the civil rights activist that read: “When I am gone, always be reminded that whenever you stand for your truth, you will be keeping my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive.”
Contributing: Jake Coyle, The Associated Press, and Kim Willis, USA TODAY