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Russell Means, ‘Last of the Mohicans’ Star and Activist, Dies at 72

Russell Means appeared in "Last of the Mohicans" and "Natural Born Killers," but his work for American Indian rights overshadowed his acting

Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux who helped found the American Indian Movement and starred in the feature film "The Last of the Mohicans," died early Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D. He was 72.

Means announced in August 2011 that he had developed inoperable throat cancer. He opted to be treated with American Indian remedies, Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Salomon said in announcing his death. 

His acting career began in 1992 when he portrayed Chingachgook alongside Daniel Day-Lewis' Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans." He also appeared in the 1994 film "Natural Born Killers," gave voice to  Chief Powhatan in the 1995 animated film "Pocahontas" and guest starred on the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in 2004.

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Means' influence went far beyond Hollywood. He was the first national director of the American Indian Movement and was at the center of a 1973 standoff with the U.S. government at Wounded Knee. Means and AIM co-founder Dennis Banks were charged in 1974 for their role in the uprising, but after a trial that lasted several months, a judge threw the charges out on grounds of government misconduct.

In 1987, he joined the U.S. Libertarian party and announced his candidacy for the party's presidential nomination. (He lost the nomination to Congressman Ron Paul.). Means was also on board as a vice-president candidate in Hustler publisher Larry Flynt's 1984 bid for the Republican nomination.

In recent years, Means worked for the rights of indigenous people internationally, including working with groups in Central and South America, and with the United Nations.

He published his autobiography "Where White Men Fear to Tread" in 1995 and was characteristically blunt in his assessment of himself.

"I tell the truth, and I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human being I used to be," he said.