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    Russell Means, Native American Actor and Famed Activist, Dies at 72

    Russell Means Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

    Russell Means, the Oglala Sioux activist who revived indigenous pride as a leader of the American Indian Movement and appeared in such Hollywood movies later in life as The Last of the Mohicans and Natural Born Killers, has died.

    He was 72.

    Means passed away early Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, his family stated on his website. The cause of death was esophageal cancer that had metastasized to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs.

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    Means rose to national prominence as the first national director of the American Indian Movement, staging a number of high-profile protests in the '60s and early '70s that called attention to the plight of Native Americans. Among their actions, the group took over Mount Rushmore and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

    But AIM's best-known and most controversial operation occurred on Feb. 27, 1973, when Means and his group of 200 Oglala Lakota followers took control of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee to demonstrate against the U.S. government's failure to honor its treaties with various Indian tribes. An armed standoff with federal authorities ensued that saw both sides exchange gunfire, costing the lives of two activists and one FBI agent.

    Means was later rung up on assault and conspiracy charges that were dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct. After a slew of other legal battles, he would subsequently go on to announce his retirement from AIM on several different occasions.

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    Means dabbled in politics, briefly serving as Larry Flynt's vice presidential running mate during the Hustler magazine guru's unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in 1984. He also ran for the Libertarian Party's nomination for president in 1987.

    But it wasn't until the '90s that Tinseltown came calling.

    Means made his big-screen debut as the dignified chief Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in 1992's The Last of the Mohicans, directed by Michael Mann. Two years later, he appeared in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, following up with roles as Jim Thorpe in Windrunner: A Spirited Journey and Sitting Bull in Buffalo Girls.

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    Other credits included a voice role in Disney's Pocahontas and its direct-to-video sequel, a 2004 guest role on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and appearances in 2005's miniseries Into the West, Thomas & The Magic Railroad, where he played Billy Twofeathers, and the 2007 action flick Pathfinder.

    Means married five times and had nine children. He's survived by his wife, Pearl Daniels.

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