Laughlin's Billy Jack character was a heroic Native American ex-Army Green Beret who used his karate skills to fight racism and oppression.
The second of the series -- titled "Billy Jack" -- was a low-budget independent film that became a box-office blockbuster in 1971. Laughlin's vigilante character defends a counterculture "Freedom School" from townspeople who harass and discriminate against the Native American students.
The film was criticized by those who saw its central theme as a message that violence was an answer to injustice.
Laughlin resorted to renting theaters himself to show the film after Hollywood studios refused to distribute it.
The Billy Jack character first appeared in "The Born Losers" in 1967, fighting a motorcycle gang. Laughlin co-wrote and directed the film.
Laughlin later attempted a political career, putting his name on presidential primary ballots in 1992, 2004 and 2008.
Laughlin's acting career began with TV and film roles in the 1950s, including a "lover boy" role in Sandra Dee's 1959 beach movie "Gidget."
His wife of 60 years, Delores Taylor, also acted in his "Billy Jack" films.
Laughlin died near his Thousand Oaks, California, home Thursday, his family said.
He is survived by his wife, three children and five grandchildren.