Who Was Charlie Hill? Google Doodle Honors Native American

Google Doodle on Wednesday paid tribute to Charlie Hill, the first Native American comedian to appear on U.S. national television, to mark what would have been his 71st birthday.

Google Doodle is the change in the search engine's logo to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and the lives of famous pioneers such as Hill.

Hill was born on July 6, 1951, in Detroit, Michigan and died on December 30, 2013, aged 62, after a battle with lymphoma cancer. Hill had Oneida (Onʌyoteˀa·ká·), Mohawk (Kanien'kehá:ka) and Cree (Néhinaw) heritage, and was one of the first public figures to challenge Native American stereotypes on major television programs.

His first TV appearance was on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. Hill later appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with David Letterman. The comedian wrote for the renowned television show Roseanne.

Charlie Hall on Google Doodle
The Google Doodle of late Native-American comedian Charlie Hill. Hill was the first Native American comedian to appear on U.S. national television, Google Doodle

In a tweet, Google Doodle said that Hill "broke into the industry and challenged harmful stereotypes."

At age 11, Hill moved to the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin's reservation where his father had grown up. As a young boy, he was particularly inspired by Dick Gregory, a comedian who supported the Native American civil rights movement through activism and comedy. Hill wanted to do the same thing, so he later attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied drama and speech.

Hill moved to New York City after he finished college, playing shows at the La Mama Experimental Theater Club. He later moved to Seattle on the West Coast and joined the Native American Theatre Ensemble.

A few years later, in the 1970s, he moved to Hollywood, performing at the famous Comedy Store, where he became friends with some of the country's top comedians and grew in popularity. Having increased his profile on the comedy scene, at only 26, Hill was offered a spot to debut on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. The show's writers later asked Hill to play a demeaning Native American stereotype and the comedian refused.

After his debut appearance, Hill became a regular on late night comedy shows and in comedy clubs.

Wednesday's Google Doodle of Hill was created by Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar) Jewell, a French-First Nations artist.

Sharing initial sketches on Google Doodle's daily blog Wednesday, Jewell said that she was heavily inspired by Hill's work.

"I studied Charlie and learned so much about the things that he loved. He was a very creative and intellectual person and so I wanted to depict him doing the things he loved most: playing the harmonica, performing, making people laugh, reading, representing Indigenous people and paving the way for other Indigenous performers," Jewell said.

"Charlie resonated with sunsets and forests, and so I wanted him to be in his favourite places doing his life work," she added.

The Hill family also shared a few words on the Google Doodle blog post in tribute to the comedian.

"Many people don't know that Charlie had a vision of becoming a comedian since the early age of ten. Many had never heard of a Native American comedian and often scoffed at his notion of wanting to become one. Regardless, Charlie was never deterred from pursuing his dream. When Charlie was on stage, he was in his element. Time and space didn't exist, and he loved making people laugh."

The family added that, through his comedy, Hill promoted "healing and reminded Native people of their resiliency, capabilities and creative abilities."

"We are forever proud of him and honored to collaborate with Google to remember him on his birthday. Our family is very grateful and honored that the legacy of Charlie Hill is being celebrated with a Google Doodle," they added.

An NPR interview in July 2012 revealed that Hill had mixed feelings about the notion of the "American Dream," believing it was out of reach for most Native Americans, who he believes are a source of endless mockery and jokes.

"They make fun of the way we dance, we sing, our drum, our names, our religion, our rituals — you name it," he said.

Hill wanted to turn that humor around so people were laughing with Native Americans, not at them.

Correction 07/06/22, 10:14 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to correct instances where Charlie Hill's name was spelled Hall. Newsweek regrets the error.