Sacheen Littlefeather, the actress and activist who declined Marlon Brando‘s 1973 Academy Award on the actor’s behalf, has died. She was 75.
Littlefeather’s death was confirmed by the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who shared the news on social media Monday. In a tweet announcing Littlefeather’s death, the Academy shared a quote from the late civil rights icon.
“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. I remain Sacheen Littlefeather. Thank you,” the quote read.
Littlefeather’s cause of death was not immediately available. In January 2021, she shared on Facebook that she had metastasized breast cancer, which had spread to her lung and was “stage four [and] terminal.”
“I look at every day as a gift of life. As I look back on my life, I look at it with pride that I did something that may have made a difference,” she said at the time.
Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75. pic.twitter.com/OlpsoItlCw
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) October 3, 2022
Littlefeather was famous for her historical speech at the 1973 Oscars, in which she turned down the Best Actor award on behalf of Brando, who had won for his work on The Godfather, according to NPR.
While dressed in moccasins and buckskin, Littlefeather told the audience Brando was declining his Oscar in protest of how Native Americans were treated by Hollywood. CNN reports that Brando “was also reacting to the response of federal law enforcement to the occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee by members of the American Indian Movement.”
Littlefeather was both booed and applauded for her words, but was largely met with backlash following her speech. The Academy issued a formal apology to Littlefeather nearly 50 years later, addressing a letter to the activist from former Academy president David Rubin.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” Rubin’s letter read, per CNN. “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.”