Sixto Rodriguez, an American singer-songwriter whose outsized popularity in South Africa inspired the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” passed away on Tuesday at the age of 81, a website dedicated to him said on Wednesday.
The Detroit-based Rodriguez did not know how popular he had become in South Africa, where his songs became anthems for the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1970s. Back in the United States, success had eluded him.
“Searching for Sugar Man” follows two South African music fans on their journey to discover the fate of Rodriguez.
The 2012 documentary by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul won the Oscar in 2013. Bendjelloul said at the time that he was drawn to the story because it was like a real-life fairy tale.
Rodriguez wrote and sang about the hard streets of Detroit in 1970 and was considered by many in the music profession to be a talent on the order of Bob Dylan. His lyrics, set to a heart-stirring rasp of a voice, told about the homeless and the working poor.
Songs titled “Street Boy,” and “Inner City Blues,” and “Cause” told the tale of society in decline and the cold comfort of the drug dealer around the corner: “Sugar Man.” His two albums of the 1970s, “Cold Facts” and “Coming from Reality”, had no commercial success in the United States.
“You have to be ready for rejection, criticism and disappointment, so those kinds of things are pretty much built into any career and so with music, it’s such,” Rodriguez said at the premiere of the documentary.
“So, yeah, it was a disappointment to me then, but look at this, it’s quite something to be here.”
His fame soared after the documentary and he performed at top music festivals like Glastonbury in Britain and Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
The Sugarman.org site did not reveal the cause of death, but earlier this year said he underwent an operation to repair damage caused by a stroke in February. Rodriguez is survived by three daughters.