Sixto Rodriguez, Subject of the Documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’, Dead at 81

    Sixto Rodriguez, the Detroit musician who was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, has died. “It is with great sadness that we at Sugarman.org announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has passed away earlier today,” a statement on his official website reads. “We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his daughters – Sandra, Eva and Regan – and to all his family.” No cause of death was given. Rodriguez was 81.

    Sixto Rodriguez was born in Detroit in the summer of 1942, the child of Mexican immigrant parents. He launched his music career in 1967 under the name Rod Riguez, eventually switching to Rodriguez and releasing a pair of albums on Sussex Records, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming From Reality. Those records sold poorly in the US, and in 1976, Rodriguez quit music and purchased a decrepit house in Detroit for $50 in a government auction. He started working in physical labor jobs and unsuccessfully ran for public office multiple times. In the meantime, his music garnered a major following overseas, receiving significant airplay in Australia, Botswana, New Zealand, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, he’s said to have sold more records than Elvis Presley.

    In 1977, unbeknownst to Rodriguez, an Australian label called Blue Goose Music issued the compilation Rodriguez At His Best, which featured music from his two albums as well as unreleased recordings from a shelved third LP. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, the compilation went platinum in South Africa, where he was even believed to have died by suicide after quitting music.

    Rodriguez was able to capitalize on his success in Australia, touring the country in 1979 and 1981. In 1998, he went on his first tour of South Africa, which was chronicled in the 2001 South African Broadcasting Corporation documentary Dead Men Don’t Tour: Rodriguez in South Africa 1998. He then returned to the country in 2001 and 2005. Cold Fact and Coming From Reality were later reissued by Light in the Attic.

    In 2012, the Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul premiered the documentary Searching for Sugar Man at Sundance Film Festival. Focusing on the efforts of two South African fans to uncover the truth about Rodriguez’s rumored death, the film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Interest in Rodriguez’s music surged following its success, leading to appearances on Letterman, Leno, 60 Minutes, and other programs. Rodriguez went on to perform at music festivals and tour the world throughout the 2010s.

    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis is a writer, journalist, and music editor at Our Culture. His work has also appeared in Pitchfork, GIGsoup, and other publications. He currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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