Wes Studi, Cherokee actor


Last Updated: 5 years

Wesley Studie was born December 17, 1947, at Norfire Hollow, Oklahoma,near Tahlequah. He was the eldest of four sons of Andy Studie, a ranch hand, and Maggie Nofire. Wesley is a full blood Cherokee.

He later dropped the “e” from his last name when he began his acting career and shortened his first name to Wes. Wes Studi did not become an actor until he was 40 years old.

Wes Studi, as he is known in Hollywood, spoke only the Cherokee language until he was five years old, when he was sent to Chilocco Indian Boarding School in Northern Oklahoma, where he remained until high school graduation. Unlike many young victims of the boarding schools, he did not forget his language.

Wes Studi, native american actorIn 1967, Studi was drafted into the Army and served 18 months in South Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta.

Traumatized by his Vietnam War experiences, Studi returned to the United States unsure of what he should do next. Studi drifted for a couple of years, spending much of his time traveling and visiting his old Vietnam buddies.

After his military discharge, Wes Studi became seriously involved with Native American politics. In 1972, he joined the Trail of Broken Treaties protest march in Washington, D.C. During this protest, he and other participants briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building.

He joined the American Indian Movement and participated in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, for which he was arrested and later released from jail on the condition that he leave the state of South Dakota. He moved to the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma.

Wes Studi as Buffalo Hump in Comanche MoonIn 1974 Wes Studi married his second wife, a schoolteacher named Rebecca Graves,who is also a Cherokee.

Though he had been married previously, the first wife is a mystery, at least I could find no specific information about who she was or when they were married.

Wes worked as a reporter for the Tulsa Indian News while married to Rebecca Graves. They had a daughter, Leah (b.1980), and later divorced in 1982. In 1986, they had another child together, a son named Daniel.

After his marriage to Rebecca ended in divorce, Wes enrolled at Tulsa Junior College on the G.I. Bill, where he helped start a Cherokee newspaper.

During his college years, Wes Studi began teaching the Cherokee language professionally. It was during this era that he began acting at The American Indian Theatre Company in Tulsa in 1983. His first professional stage debut in “Black Elk Speaks” came in 1984.

Later attending Tahlequah University, Studi made further attempts at positive influence in his work with the Cherokee Nation.

After college, Wes Studi shifted his attention to running his own horse ranch and became a professional horse trainer.

In 1986, Wes moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. The six foot actor initially struggled to get roles, but appeared in occasional commercials.

In 1988, Wes Studi landed his first film roles. He appeared in the movie “Powwow Highway,” made his TV debut in a small role of the ABC TV-movie, “Longarm,” and a made for TV movie called “The Trial of Standing Bear.”

Just two years later, he landed the role of the Pawnee warrior in Dances with Wolves (1990). Two years after that Wes landed his first big lead role. He did an amazing job of portryaing Magua in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), the film that made him famous. Wes Studi soon became known for his movie roles portraying strong Indian characters. As a prominent film actor, Wes Studi has strived to portray Native American characters with poignance and authenticity.

In 2002, Studi brought to life the legendary Tony Hillerman character Lt. Joe Leaphorn, for a series of PBS movies produced by Robert Redford, based on Tony Hillerman’s bookstitled Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time and Coyote Waits.

In 2005, he portrayed a character inspired by the Powhatan warrior Opechancanough in The New World, a 2005 Academy Award-nominated film directed by Terrence Malick, and starring Colin Farrell.

The historical adventure is set during the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement and includes other characters inspired by historical figures, notably Captain John Smith (Farrell) and Pocahontas.

Much of the film was shot at locations in James City County and Charles City County, not far from where the first permanent English colony in the New World was established at Jamestown on May 14, 1607.

Wes Studi as GeronimoStudi has since appeared in 52 film and television productions, including 500 Nations, Big Guns Talk, Broken Chains, Crazy Horse, Dances With Wolves, Deep Rising, The Doors, Heat, Highlander, Ice Planet, The Killing Jar, Lone Justice 2, The Last of the Mohicans, Mystery Men, Ned Blessings, Pow Wow Highway, Geronimo: An America Legend, Comanche Moon, Streets of Laredo, Mystery Men, The New World, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Seraphim Falls.

The complete Wes Studi Filmography represents nearly twenty years of steady work as an actor.

His upcoming film projects include Avatar, directed by James Cameron, and The Only Good Indian, directed by Kevin Willmott.

Wes Studi and his wife Maura Dhu, a singer and writer, live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and perform in a local six piece band called Firecat of Discord. Maura is the band’s lead singer and Wes plays the bass guitar. They primarily do original music.

The Firecat of Discord released their first self titled CD in 1998. In 2000 the Firecats hit the road with performances at the Native American Music Festival in Arizona and The Oneida Casino in Wisconsin, sharing the bill with Rita Coolidge and Walela. Their music has also been used in film soundtracks.

Maura and Wes have one son, Kholan Garret Studi (b.1993).

For his contributions to his community, Wes Studi, is one of The New Mexican’s “10 Who Made A Difference.” The Actor is using his star power to keep Native languages from dying.

In addition to acting, Studi is a stone carver working in soapstone and other soft stones, and author of two children’s books, The Adventures of Billy Bean and The Further Adventures of Billy Bean. These books were written for the Cherokee Bilingual/Cross Cultural Education Center. He is also active in working with native youth.

Wes Studi was a mentor at the 2nd annual HatcH audiovisual festival in Bozeman, Montana, in October 2005. HatcH is a film and arts festival whose mission is to provide mentorship, education, inspiration, and recognition to the next generation of creative innovators.

Manager: Michael Black Management
Ph. 310-651-3081

Wes Studi, back with host of colorful characters for Comanche Moon mini series

Official Wes Studi Website