Credit: IMDB

Sad news today as we learn that actor August Schellenberg, who played Native American mentor Randolph Johnson in Free Willy, passed away at age 77. August died in Texas surrounded by his loved ones after facing a long battle with cancer, TMZ reports.

Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Don’t know about you guys, but Free Willy was on a perpetual loop in our VHS players throughout most of the 1990s, making August feel like the cetacean-enthused mentor we never had.

In the 1993 classic, August’s character Randolph helped guide the wayward whale lover Jesse to that famous final scene where beloved orca Willy jumped a wall to oceanic freedom. And so our love of marine biology was born.

Beyond his pivotal role in our childhoods, August played a number of equally important parts in Hollywood. He not only starred in all three Free Willy movies but August’s appearance as Chief Sitting Bull in Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee earned him a 2007 Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.

Most recently, the actor starred in a noir film called The Last Movie. A sadly fitting title, no?

Our thoughts go out to August’s family during this difficult time. In his honor, we’ll be listening to Free Willy theme song and Michael Jackson hit “Will You Be There” for the rest of the day.

Sources: TMZ and IMDB