Iron Eyes Cody began his acting career at age twelve. He worked in film and TV until the time of his death. From his time in Hollywood, Tony Cody claimed Cherokee-Cree ancestry. He lived his life as if he were of indigenous Native American descent, both on and off the screen, and strongly supported American Indian causes.
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He appeared in more than 200 films, including The Big Trail (1930), with John Wayne; The Scarlet Letter (1934), with Colleen Moore; Sitting Bull (1954), as Crazy Horse; The Light in the Forest (1958) as Cuyloga; “The Great Sioux Massacre” (1965), with Joseph Cotten; Nevada Smith (1966), with Steve McQueen; A Man Called Horse (1970), with Richard Harris; and Ernest Goes to Camp (1987), as Chief St. Cloud. In 1953, he appeared twice as Chief Big Cloud in Duncan Renaldo’s television series, The Cisco Kid. He later guest starred on John Payne’s NBC western series, The Restless Gun.
Cody became widely seen in his “crying Indian” role in the “Keep America Beautiful” Public Service Announcement (PSA) in the early 1970s. The environmental commercial showed Cody as an Indian, shedding a tear after people throw trash from a speeding car and it lands at his feet. The announcer, William Conrad, says: “People start pollution; people can stop it.”
The Joni Mitchell song “Lakota,” from the 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, features Cody’s chanting. He made a cameo appearance in the 1990 film Spirit of ’76.