Rodriguez, singer in ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ dead at 81

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Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, the Detroit, Michigan, singer-songwriter whose unusual rise to fame was documented in the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” has died. He was 81.

The musician’s death was confirmed on his website Wednesday. His cause and location of death has not been revealed.

“It is with great sadness that we at announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has passed away earlier today,” read the statement on his website.

“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,” the statement continued.

The Bob Dylan-inspired crooner, better known as Rodriguez, struggled to sell copies of his first two records “Cold Fact” and “Coming From Reality” in the 1970s and he supported himself by working on a Chrysler assembly line. 

Singer-songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez performs onstage in support of Brian Wilson and Al Jardine at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay on June 19, 2015, in San Diego, California.
Getty Images

Rodriguez quit music in the 1970s and started his career back up again after discovering his international fame.
Rodriguez quit music in the 1970s and started his career back up again after discovering his international fame.
Getty Images

Unbeknownst to him, his music was gaining cult-like popularity in South Africa, Botswana, Australia and New Zealand. 

In South Africa, his songs protesting the Vietnam War, as well as racial and gender inequality, became songs used to protest racial segregation during the country’s racist apartheid.

His fans in South Africa assumed Rodriguez was popular in the US and thought he was already dead. 

The documentary "Searching for Sugar Man" won the Oscar in 2013.
The documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” won an Oscar in 2013.
©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

In 1997, Cape Town, South Africa, record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and a journalist named Carl Bartholomew-Strydom hunted the singer down in Detroit, where he was very much alive and working on construction sites. Also in 1997, Rodriguez’s daughter Eva found out about her dad’s fame online.

His fame skyrocketed in 1998 after his song “Sugar Man” was covered by the South African rock band Just Jinger and the Scottish singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini. Rapper Nas also sampled his song in 2001. In 2008, Rodriguez released his two albums and also went on tour.

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez performs at Lincoln Hall on Thursday, Sept. 120, 2012, in Chicago.
Rodriguez performs at Lincoln Hall on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. The singer’s death was announced on Wednesday.
Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP

The 2012 documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul shined a light on the singer’s life and won an Oscar in 2013. The director committed suicide in 2014.

After Rodriguez’s music career died down in the ’70s, he quit music and worked demolition gigs. He was involved in local politics and unsuccessfully ran for Detroit City Council and the Michigan House of Representatives. Then, his life changed forever.

“It’s been a great odyssey,” Rodriguez said in a 2008 interview with the Detroit News. “All those years, you know, I always considered myself a musician. But, reality happened.”

Rodriguez was supposed to go on tour in Australia and New Zealand in 2019, but he canceled, citing ill health.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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