Birthday: May 26, 1912
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Harold Preston Smith
Born Country: Canada
Born in: Six Nations Reservation, Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'0" (183 cm), 6'0" Males
Died on: March 5, 1980
place of death: Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA
Jay Silverheels was an American-Canadian actor and athlete. He is best remembered for his character ‘Tonto’ in the TV series ‘The Lone Ranger.’ Since Silverheels was born into a family of indigenous Americans, he excelled in the portrayal of ‘Tonto’ who was also a Native American. Silverheels led a life of poverty in his childhood. He was proficient in athletics, boxing, and lacrosse. While taking part in a lacrosse game, Silverheels was spotted by the American actor, Joe E. Brown. He advised Silverheels to appear for screen test. This marked the beginning of his career in movies and TV. He worked as a stuntman, and appeared in several movies. It was the role of ‘Tonto’ that brought him fame. After this series, Silverheels bagged better roles in several movies such as ‘The Cowboy and the Indians,’ ‘Broken Arrow,’ and ‘Brave Warrior.’ Though he was unhappy about being typecast in Native American characters, Silverheels continued to perform. He performed as ‘Tonto’ in the film sequels, ‘The Lone Ranger,’ and ‘The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold.’ He was a strong supporter of Native American actors. During his last days, Silverheels suffered a stroke, and died of the complications. Silverheels has a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’ He was inducted into the ‘Hall of Great Western Performers’ at the ‘National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.’
Childhood & Early Life
Jay Silverheels was born Harold Jay Smith, on May 26, 1912, in Six Nations of the Grand River, near Ontario, Canada. He hailed from the indigenous American tribe, Mohawk. Captain Alexander George Edwin Smith was his father, and Mabel Phoebe Doxtater was his mother. His grandfather was a Mohawk chief. Silverheels was one of the eleven children of his parents.
Silverheels had a difficult childhood. He took to athletics and sports to overcome poverty. He was a skilled lacrosse player and a boxer, too. Silverheels participated in several ‘Golden Gloves’ competitions in boxing.
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In 1937, while Jay Silverheels was playing lacrosse in Los Angeles, he was spotted by actor Joe E. Brown. Impressed by his athletic body, Brown asked him to appear for a screen test. This is how he entered the showbiz. Silverheels started his career as a stuntman and extra. In his early career, he was known by the names, Harold Smith, or Harry Smith.
In the 1940s, Silverheels appeared in small roles in several movies such as ‘The Sea Hawk,’ ‘This Woman Is Mine,’ and ‘Perils of Nyoka.’ In 1943, he performed as an ‘Astari warrior,’ in the series, ‘The Phantom.’ In 1948, Silverheels performed as ‘John Osceola,’ in the crime movie, ‘Key Largo.’ Humphrey Bogart played the lead role in the movie. In the same year, he made small appearances in movies such as ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,’ ‘Fury at Furnace Creek,’ and ‘Family Honeymoon.’
In 1949, Jay Silverheels bagged the most prominent role of his career. He was chosen for the American western drama series, ‘The Lone Ranger.’ Clayton Moore played the lead character, ‘Lone Ranger.’ Silverheels portrayed ‘Tonto,’ who was the Indian companion of the ‘Lone Ranger.’ It was one of the most popular series aired on the ‘ABC’ network, and had a )successful run for 5 seasons. The series was the story of a lone survivor of a massacre. He traveled with his trusted companion, to assist those who are at the mercy of goons.
After the success of ‘The Lone Ranger,’ Jay Silverheels was offered similar roles. He was often typecast as a Native American. In 1949, he portrayed ‘Lakohna,’ in the movie, ‘The Cowboy and the Indians.’ In 1960, he performed as a Native American, in the episode, ‘Leap of Life,’ of the series, ‘Rescue 8.’
Silverheels portrayed ‘Tonto’ in several movies also. In 1952, he performed in the movie, ‘The Legend of the Lone Ranger.’ In 1956, Silverheels performed as ‘Tonto,’ in the movie, ‘The Lone Ranger.’ In 1958, he reprised the same character in the movie, ‘The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold.’ Silverheels was seen in ‘Alias Jesse James,’ and ‘The Phynx’ too. His name had become synonymous with the character.
‘Geronimo’ was another Native Indian character portrayed by Silverheels. He performed as ‘Geronimo’ in several movies such as ‘Broken Arrow,’ ‘The Battle at Apache Pass,’ and ‘Walk the Proud Land.’ In 1964 and 1965, Silverheels performed in a few episodes of the American action-adventure series, ‘Daniel Boone.’
In 1969, Jay Silverheels participated in the comedy sketch show, ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.’ In the show, he appeared as ‘Tonto,’ without the ‘Lone Ranger.’ Silverheels never shied away from making fun of his own character. He was a staunch supporter of the ‘Indian Actors Workshop,’ where the Indian actors learned to refine their acting skills.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
Jay Silverheels was married twice. He was first married to Bobbie. The couple has a child. They divorced in 1943. In 1946, Silverheels married Mary Diroma. They have four children.
In 1976, Silverheels suffered a stroke. On March 5, 1980, he succumbed to the complications arising out of the stroke. He was cremated at the ‘Chapel of the Pines Crematory,’ and the ashes were taken to the Six Nations Reserve.
In 1993, Jay Silverheels was inducted into the ‘Hall of Great Western Performers,’ at the ‘National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum,’ at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was also honored with a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’