Rodriguez, musician rediscovered in ‘Looking for Sugar Man’ documentary, dies at 81

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Sixto Rodriguez, the singer-songwriter who discovered fame as the topic of the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary “Looking for Sugar Man,” died on Tuesday at 81.

His demise was introduced on his official web site: “It’s with nice disappointment that we at Sugarman.org announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has handed away earlier in the present day. We lengthen our most heartfelt condolences to his daughters — Sandra, Eva and Regan — and to all his household.”

No reason for demise was given.

Performing as Rodriguez, the Detroit-born artist developed an idiosyncratic mix of confessional folks and psychedelic soul on a pair of albums he launched to little consideration within the early Seventies. Rodriguez retired from music to work blue-collar jobs in his hometown, however these information discovered an unlikely viewers in South Africa, incomes him a cult following that crested within the early 2010s with the discharge of “Looking for Sugar Man.”

Concurrently celebrating and puncturing the myths that arose within the absence of concrete info, the movie introduced Rodriguez to a large worldwide viewers for the primary time. After profitable the viewers award on the 2012 Sundance Movie Competition, “Looking for Sugar Man” turned a word-of-mouth hit, finally incomes the Academy Award for documentary function. In its evaluation, The Occasions known as the movie “an indelible portrait of an artist given a second probability at fame.”

Within the wake of the film’s success, Rodriguez returned to stay performances, showing on “The Late Present With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Present With Jay Leno” and taking part in concert events into the late 2010s.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez was born in Detroit on July 10, 1942. He began taking part in guitar as a youngster, releasing the one “I’ll Slip Away” on Impression Information in 1967; the file was credited to “Rod Riguez.” A pair of music producers, Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore, noticed Rodriguez acting at a neighborhood membership known as the Sewer and introduced him to Sussex Information, a subsidiary of the bubble-gum label Buddha launched by Clarence Avant, a former Motown government.

Rodriguez recorded his 1970 debut, “Chilly Reality,” with Theodore and Coffey producing. Equal elements mellow soul and plaintive folks, “Chilly Reality” contained songs such because the trippy “Sugar Man” that might have sounded at residence subsequent to Jose Feliciano, Stevie Surprise or Cat Stevens on AM radio — the groove was funky sufficient to be sampled by Nas on his monitor “You’re Da Man” in 2001 — however Sussex didn’t generate curiosity within the album. Rodriguez headed to London to chop a follow-up, “Coming From Actuality,” however inside months of its 1971 launch, Sussex launched him from his contract.

Again residence in Detroit, Rodriguez retired from music. He labored development jobs as he earned a bachelor’s diploma in philosophy from Wayne State College — he’d later earn an honorary doctoral diploma from the establishment in 2013 — and raised a household. He went on to work as a political activist, campaigning in opposition to police brutality and advocating for the poor. He ran for mayor, state senate and metropolis council, by no means profitable a race.

As Rodriguez pursued a life after music, “Chilly Reality” discovered its method to audiences in Australia. Live performance promoters invited Rodriguez to play the nation in 1979 and the musician was shocked to find massive crowds awaiting him. He returned to Australia in 1981, sharing the occasional invoice with politically minded rockers Midnight Oil. On the time, Rodriguez thought of these appearances to be “unusual flukes,” however they planted the seeds of a cult following that blossomed within the a long time to comply with.

Rodriguez’s music additionally attracted followers in South Africa, who discovered his socially progressive songs resonant throughout the age of apartheid. Missing any onerous info concerning the singer-songwriter — little or no was written about him in America, not to mention in South Africa — followers speculated about his historical past, inventing such outlandish tales as Rodriguez dying by suicide onstage or from a drug overdose.

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Rodriguez performing in 2013.

(Gallo Photos / Getty Photos)

By the late Nineties, music journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Cape City file retailer proprietor Stephen Segerman got down to uncover what had develop into of Rodriguez, launching an internet site known as “The Nice Rodriguez Hunt.” Rodriguez’s daughter Eva realized of the location, resulting in the musician taking part in a handful of exhibits in South Africa in 1998. The web site and exhibits kicked off a resurgence that continued when the boutique indie label Gentle within the Attic reissued each of Rodriguez’s albums in 2008.

Round this time, filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul met Segerman and realized the hunt for Rodriguez contained the seeds of an ideal movie. Bendjelloul structured his movie as a detective story, which was key to its enchantment. “What units ‘Looking for Sugar Man’ aside,” The Occasions famous in 2012, “is the best way by which the filmmaker preserves a way of thriller within the telling.”

The movie received the Oscar for documentary on the sixty fifth Academy Awards in 2013, culminating a near-sweep of eligible awards since its premiere on the 2012 Sundance Movie Competition.

“Looking for Sugar Man” turned the uncommon music documentary to discover a broad viewers. The Dave Matthews Band lined “Sugar Man” in live performance in 2013 and ’14 — Matthews stated Rodriguez was “one in all my heroes rising up” — and Seashore Boy Brian Wilson introduced Rodriguez out on tour. Along with community tv spots, Rodriguez carried out at Coachella and at England’s Glastonbury competition.

After a stroke within the late 2010s, Rodriguez misplaced his capability to sing and play guitar. By 2019, he was in a position to play music once more however the COVID-19 shutdown canceled a number of deliberate 2020 gigs. In July 2023, he appeared onstage at a live performance celebrating his 81st birthday.

Chatting with the Detroit Information in 2008, Rodriguez summarized his journey: “It’s been an ideal odyssey. All these years, you already know, I all the time thought of myself a musician. However, actuality occurred.”

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