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Rodriguez, Singer/Songwriter Rediscovered In ‘Sugar Man’ Doc, Dies At 81

Artist was unaware of his music's international cult following while living in obscurity in Detroit
(Credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Sixto Rodriguez, the Detroit-born singer/songwriter who improbably rose to fame in his 70s after being spotlighted in the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, has passed away at the age of 81. The news was announced on his official website and social media platforms. No cause of death has been revealed.

“It is with great sadness that we at announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has passed away earlier today,” the official statement said. “We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his daughters – Sandra, Eva and Regan – and to all his family. Rodriguez was 81 years old. May His Dear Soul Rest In Peace.”

Born in 1942, Rodriguez was working on the Chrysler automotive assembly line in Detroit when he released the little-heard albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971) through Sussex Records. Due to their lack of commercial success, he was dropped by the label and returned to a life of manual labor, all the while unaware that his music had begun attracting a cult following in Australia and South Africa. Although Rodriguez eventually performed in Australia in the late ’70s and early ’80s, afterwards he once again retreated to Detroit, where he was finally re-discovered in 1997.

The idea that the artist was forgotten in his home country but revered in the Southern Hemisphere was absurd to some, but to Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, it was something far more interesting. Bendjelloul quit his job to begin making Searching for Sugar Man, edited it in his apartment, and mostly financed it himself. The film, his first, went on to win the 2013 Academy Award for best documentary.

“This was the greatest, the most amazing, true story I’d ever heard, an almost archetypal fairy tale,” he told the New York Times in 2012, two years before he died by suicide. “It’s a perfect story. It has the human element, the music aspect, a resurrection, and a detective story.”

Rodriguez’s two studio albums were reissued by Light in the Attic in 2008 and 2009, while the soundtrack for Searching for Sugar Man was a hit in South Africa, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, and the U.S., where it debuted at No. 5 on Billboard‘s Top Folk Albums chart.

Rodriguez toured extensively in the wake of the film but had been off the road since 2018. A concert document, Rodriguez Rocks: Live From Australia, was released in 2016.

“Struggling to find the words,” reads a post from Light in the Attic on the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Sixto Rodriguez just passed away. Like countless others, you changed our lives in so many ways. Shaped us into better, more caring people. Made us dream bigger. The world was instantly more grandiose and magical when you entered the room.”

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