Rodriguez, Singer and Subject of ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ Dead at 81
After recording music in the 1970s, singer Sixto Rodriguez’s career was revived decades later with a 2012 Oscar-winning documentary
Sixto Rodriguez, the Detroit singer known professionally as Rodriguez, has died at age 81.
“It is with great sadness that we at Sugarman.org announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has passed away earlier today,” the official statement reads. “We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his daughters — Sandra, Eva and Regan — and to all his family.”
It continued, “May His Dear Soul Rest In Peace.” The statement was the followed by the line, “Maybe today, I’ll slip away,” from his first single, 1967’s “I’ll Slip Away.”
The singer-songwriter found success later in his career and was the subject of the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
According to Variety, Rodriguez was born to Mexican immigrants on July 10, 1942 in Detroit and recorded two albums — Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming to Reality in 1971 — which were released on former Motown Records chairman Clarence Avant’s new label Sussex.
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While the albums were commercially unsuccessful, the “Sugar Man” singer’s poetic lyrics about living in the inner city with economic instability resonated with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa years later. In 1998, the recording artist, who took up industrial work in Detroit after recording his two records, toured South Africa and was embraced by thousands of international fans.
Searching for Sugar Man, the documentary about his career from the late Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, chronicles two Cape Town fans’ journey in the late 1990s as they tried to find out whether Rodriguez was still alive and his whereabouts. The success of the documentary led to even more fans discovering his music and led to him having late career success.
Rodriguez was performing up until 2020 when several of his live appearances were canceled due to the pandemic, per USA TODAY.
In 2018, the folk artist spoke to KEXP about what he learned from his delayed success. “No matter how cerebral your ideas and thoughts are, no matter how celestial your ideas and thoughts are or how ethnocentric — you only have so much time to figure it out,” he said.
“He conquers who conquers himself. I got a degree in philosophy but there’s a whole lot you don’t learn in school. Youthfulness doesn’t guarantee longevity. You only got so much time to figure it out. That’s my direction,” he continued. “I tell people to get a passport and get a bank account. I want to live to be 100 — no, 350 years! But like you I can only do it one day at a time. If you do one good day, that’s what it is.”
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