August Schellenberg, Star of ‘Free Willy’ and ‘The New World,’ Dies at 77

Movie Talk
Jason James Richter and August Schellenberg in 'Free Willy'
Jason James Richter and August Schellenberg in 'Free Willy'

August Schellenberg, the veteran actor probably best known for his portrayal of young Jesse's mentor Randolph in the "Free Willy" movies, died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer, according to TMZ. He was 77.

Schellenberg was born on July 25, 1936 in Montreal as a member of the Metis, one of the recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada, according to Wikipedia. A man of Mohawk and Swiss-German descent, he lived and worked in Montreal, where he trained at the National Theatre School of Canada before moving to Toronto in 1967.

Schellenberg's first film role was in "Rip-Off" (1971), which he followed with turns in "Power Play" (1978), "Death Hunt" (1981) and voice work in the animated sci-fi/fantasy anthology film, "Heavy Metal" (1981). He also played the major role of Chomina in Bruce Beresford's "Black Robe" (1991) and appeared as as Chief Powhatan in Terrence Malick's "The New World" (2005), co-starring Colin Farrell and Christian Bale.

Schellenberg was quoted as saying his all-time favorite role was Sitting Bull in John Irvin's TV movie "Crazy Horse" (1996), though his most popular role was arguably that in "Free Willy" (1993), a family film that chronicles the unlikely friendship between Jesse (Jason James Richter), a streetwise yet troublesome 12-year-old, and Willy, an equally uncooperative and surly killer whale. Schellenberg played Randolph Johnson, Willy's trainer and the film's default philosopher, who ends up bonding with Jesse when it's revealed that the boy and whale share a special connection.

Schellenberg reprised his role in both "Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home" (1995) and "Free Willy 3: The Rescue" (1997), becoming the sort of Mr. Miyagi of the series with his calm demeanor, sly humor and bits of wisdom. Here are the six key life lessons we learned throughout the trilogy from Randolph Johnson:

1. "Things can happen." (when asked if Willy might be able to jump high enough to clear some treacherous rocks)
"Free Willy" (1993)

2. "You must have something special, that's why Willy didn't eat you up. Maybe high blood, medicine roots ... or you're just one lucky little white boy. You like the sound of that better?"
"Free Willy" (1993)

3. Randolph: 300 years ago, my people only had to spend one day a week gathering food, and everybody ate like kings.
Jesse: So what'd they do the rest of the time?
Randolph: Told stories, made music, made carvings. Made babies.
Jesse: Sounds good to me.
"Free Willy" (1993)

4. (after giving Jesse a necklace with an orca on it) "My people believe your soul is right here [points to Jesse's chest]. So when you wear that, the Orca is close to your soul."
"Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home" (1995)

5. Elvis: Hi, I'm Elvis. I'm half Apache.
Randolph: Nice to meet you, Elvis. Apache. They're the sworn enemy of my people. [glares at Elvis]
Elvis: Um, did I say Apache? Oh, I meant, I meant, I meant Cherokee.
Randolph: That's even worse.
[Elvis stares in fear, then Randolph bursts out laughing]
"Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home" (1995)

6. Randolph: Ten years in jail. The penalty for 'borrowing' a boat that doesn't belong to you. It's called piracy. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 200 dollars.
Jesse: You're right, it was a bad idea.
Randolph: Let's do it.
"Free Willy 3: The Rescue" (1997)

Watch the trailer for the original 'Free Willy':