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'Free Willy' actor August Schellenberg dies at 77

Aug. 16, 2013 at 2:56 PM ET

August Schellenberg
VALERY HACHE / AFP - Getty Images file
August Schellenberg, best known for his roles as Native American characters, has died from lung cancer.

August Schellenberg, best known for starring in the first three "Free Willy" movies, died Thursday night at his home in Dallas after a long battle with lung cancer, his manager Alan Mills confirmed to TODAY.com.

Schellenberg, a Metis actor born in Montreal, had a stage, movie and television career that spanned more than 40 years, but is best remembered for his role as handyman Randolph Johnson in the "Free Willy" movies. 

Schellenberg was also known for playing Native American characters, in particular the Hunkpapa Lakota chief Sitting Bull, whom he portrayed three times over the span of his career. In 2007 he earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal in the HBO miniseries "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." 

Other notable credits include parts in feature films such as "The New World," "Black Robe" and "Iron Will." His last role came in 2012 and was coincidentally a film titled "The Last Movie."

In addition to acting, Schellenberg, who was of English-Mohawk and Swiss decent, was proud of his heritage and often dedicated his time to various Native American charities.

"Young Native kids don’t have too many role models to look at," he told the Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate in 2008. 

Schellenberg is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, actress Joan Karasevich, and three daughters. 

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