Bob Hicks, Pioneering Advocate for Natives in Hollywood, Walks On at 80

A highly influential advocate for Native Americans in Hollywood has passed away at the age of 80, leaving a legacy of progress.
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Bob Hicks, Muscogee Creek, a longtime advocate for American Indians in Hollywood, has died at the age of 80. 

Hicks co-founded First Americans in the Arts, and served as the organization's first president. He also served as the executive director of the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts, established by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest actor Will Sampson.

"He was the original trail blazer," actress DeLanna Studi told Deadline Hollywood. "The work he did opened doors for so many of us. He was such a generous, kind soul. He taught us not to give up. He was just a good, good man."

On Friday, Hicks collapsed in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Washington, DC, and died at a hospital not long after. That very day, he had attended the first performance of The Dawes Commission, a play he wrote, at the Smithsonian Institute. 

To better paint a picture of Hicks' personality and influence, the writer of the Deadline article drew on an interview he'd conducted some time ago. In it, Hicks described an all-too-common childhood experience for young Native Americans encountering old-school Hollywood westerns. "When I was a kid," he said, "I didn’t have any role models in the movies who I could look up to and say, 'I want to be like that.' The Indians were always portrayed as the bad guys, so I rooted for the cowboys. I was brainwashed. That kind of thing can leave a kid confused."

Hicks made it his life's mission to rectify that confusion, and had many successes. One in particular that no movie fan can forget came in the late 1980s, when Hicks provided his casting expertise to a then-unheralded western called Dances With Wolves. The casting of numerous Native actors in Native roles was a watershed moment for American Indians in Hollywood.