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Sixto Rodriguez, subject of Oscar-winning doc ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ dead at 81


By Marianne Garvey

(CNN) — Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of the documentary “‘Searching for Sugar Man” – which won the 2013 best documentary Academy Award – has died, according to an announcement on his official website.

The following statement, posted on Tuesday, was included in the notice:

“It is with great sadness that we at announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has passed away earlier today. 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”

No cause of death was indicated.

Originally a somewhat obscure figure of the 1970s Detroit folk music scene, Rodriguez had no idea that his music was incredibly popular in South Africa, where he was “as famous as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones,” CNN’s Nadia Bilchik said in 2013 just ahead of the Oscars ceremony.

She added that he “didn’t know that he was absolutely a cult figure in South Africa.”

With lyrics such as “The system’s gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune,” Rodriguez unwittingly became the voice of the anti-Apartheid struggle in the 1970s, even as his records flopped in his own country.

The 2012 documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” directed by the late Malik Bendjelloul, documented the search for Rodriguez.

Going on to win the best documentary Oscar the following year, the film helped catapult Rodriguez from obscurity to new heights of fame.

“A man who lives his whole life in Detroit working as a construction worker, without knowing that, at the very same time, he’s more famous than Elvis Presley in another part of the world,” Bendjelloul told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in 2012. “I thought it was the most beautiful story I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The film got its title from “Sugar Man,” a 1970 song by Rodriguez about a drug peddler.

“It was this lost masterpiece, like a Cinderella story, a fairy tale,” Bendjelloul said of Rodriguez’s life. “I never heard anything like that. A story that was so rich and true.”

Of his initial preference to stay out of the spotlight, Mike Theodore, who coproduced Rodriguez’s 1970 debut album, told the Detroit Free Press, “His point of view was always: ‘Don’t watch me — listen to what I’m saying.’”

According to Le Monde, as of last year Rodriguez was blind, no longer playing music and was still living in the same house in Detroit.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Jane Caffrey and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

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