Although Jay Silverheels appeared in over 35 movies, he is best-known for his role of Tonto in The Lone Ranger tv series.
Silverheels was a champion wrestler, a boxer, and a star lacrosse player with Canada's national team before starting work in Hollywood in 1938. He worked as a stuntman and extra before landing some bit parts in the early 1940s, almost always credited as simply "Indian" or "Indian Brave". He started to gain some notice in 1948 when John Huston cast him as Tom Osceola in Key Largo. The next year he took the role of "Tonto", the Lone Ranger’s loyal sidekick, and it was the first time a Native actor played a Native character on television.
After landing the role of Tonto in 1949, Silverheels found himself forever typecast. He continued to act in movies, appearing several times as Geronimo, but he was often called upon to perform as Tonto for commercials and comic spots long after the series ended.
He founded the Indian Actors' Workshop in 1966 with Will Sampson and offered free classes for Native Americans who wanted to work in the industry.
Silverheels was partially paralyzed by a series of strokes in 1975 and died in 1980.
He was cremated at Chapel of the Pines Crematory. His ashes were returned home to the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation and reported scattered on the family farm near Brantford.