Malik Bendjelloul, ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Director, Dead by Suicide
Swedish filmmaker told the unlikely story of '60s psych-folk hero Rodriguez
UPDATE: Mailk Bendjelloul’s older brother, Johar, confirmed that his death was the result of suicide. He shared the tragic news with Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet on Wednesday, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter, and explained that the director had recently suffered from depression.
“Sugar man, you’re the answer / That makes my questions disappear.” When the enigmatic voice of Sixto Rodriguez spills out from “Sugar Man,” the psych-folk gem from his 1970 cult classic Cold Fact, the idea this Detroit-born singer-songwriter was forgotten in his home country but revered in the Southern Hemisphere becomes absurd. To Malik Bendjelloul, who won a 2013 Academy Award for best documentary with debut feature Searching for Sugar Man, about how Rodriguez gained countercultural fame in apartheid South Africa, it was more.
Bendjelloul, who was found dead on May 13 in Stockholm at age 36, quit his job to make the film, edited it in his apartment, and mostly financed it himself, according to The New York Times. “This was the greatest, the most amazing, true story I’d ever heard, an almost archetypal fairy tale,” he was quoted as saying in 2012. “It’s a perfect story. It has the human element, the music aspect, a resurrection, and a detective story.”
Police haven’t revealed a cause of death, but they told reporters they don’t suspect a crime. Searching for Sugar Man had appeared to introduce a promising new talent; instead, while the film revived the career of Rodriguez to the point that a balladeer once thought dead was able to play Coachella 2013 at age 70, audiences are left with a tragic new set of what-ifs.
Bendjelloul’s passion for music went beyond Rodriguez, whose Cold Fact was reissued in 2008 on Light in the Attic, which also repressed follow-up Coming From Reality in 2009. Bendjelloul interviewed the likes of Björk — scroll down to watch a clip — and Elton John. Watch a Searching for Sugar Man trailer below.