- Birth name:
- Harold J. Smith
- Date of Birth:
- 5 March 1912 Six Nations Reservation, Brantford, Ontario,
- 6' (1.83 m)
Familiar Canadian Indian actor who shot to fame as Tonto, the faithful Indian companion of the masked man on the US television series "The Lone Ranger (1949)_. A member of the Mohawk tribe, he excelled at wrestling, horse racing, football, boxing, and hockey, and became a renowned lacrosse player. With the help of actor Joe E. Brown, Silverheels obtained work as a stuntman and extra in Hollywood films. Following military service in World War II, Silverheels returned to film work and began landing small, often stereotypical roles as Indian warriors in Westerns. John Huston used him as one of the fugitive Osceola brothers in Key Largo (1948), and Silverheels followed this with the two roles that would define his career, Tonto and the Apache leader Geronimo, whom he would play several times beginning with the Western classic Broken Arrow (1950). His enormous fame as Tonto overshadowed everything else he did, though it did not prevent him from playing other parts to noticeable effect. Even after the end of "The Lone Ranger" (1949) series, he continued to be called upon to reprise Tonto for commercials, comic guest spots, and spoofs. He became an outspoken activist for Indian rights as well as a respected teacher within the Indian acting community. He appeared several times on talk and variety shows performing his own poetry. In later years, he played fewer parts of importance and began a second career as a harness racer. His health failed in the late Seventies and he died of a stroke in 1980, a beloved figure to the Baby Boom generation America. His son, Jay Silverheels Jr. has acted in television as well.