Singer Immortalized in Documentary Has Died

Sixto Rodriguez was the subject of 'Searching for Sugar Man'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 9, 2023 4:55 PM CDT

Singer and songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who became the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, has died at age 81. Rodriguez' death Tuesday in Detroit was announced on the website and confirmed Wednesday by his granddaughter, Amanda Kennedy. He died following a short illness, according to his wife, Konny Rodriguez, 72. Rodriguez was considered, in the words of the AP, "the greatest protest singer and songwriter that most people never heard of."

His albums flopped in the US in the 1970s, but—unknown to him—he later became a star in South Africa where his songs protesting the Vietnam War, racial inequality, and abuse of women inspired white liberals horrified by the country's brutal racial segregation system of apartheid. Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul's documentary Searching for Sugar Man presented Rodriguez to a much larger audience. The film tells of two South Africans' mission to seek out the fate of their musical hero. It won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2013.

As his popularity in South Africa grew, Rodriguez lived in Detroit. But his fans in South Africa believed, incorrectly, he also was famous in the US. Rodriguez said he just "went back to work" after his music career fizzled, raising a family that includes three daughters and launching several unsuccessful campaigns for public office. He made a living through manual labor in Detroit. Still, he never stopped playing his music. "I felt I was ready for the world, but the world wasn't ready for me," Rodriguez said. "I feel we all have a mission—we have obligations. Those turns on the journey, different twists—life is not linear."

(More obituary stories.)

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