Detroit Singer and ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Star Sixto Rodriguez Dies at 81

BYRON BAY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 29: Rodriguez performs on stage at Bluesfest Byron Bay 2013 - Day 2 on March 29, 2013 in Byron Bay, Australia.
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Detroit singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, best known for the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man has passed away. Just weeks ago, he celebrated his 81st birthday at Cadieux Cafe in Detroit even though he had been experiencing declining health. His daughter confirmed the sad news to the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday.

Rodriguez was born in Detroit, Michigan, and lived there his whole life. In the late ’60s, he began his career as “Rod Riguez” and released a single called “I’ll Slip Away.” Three years later, he signed with Sussex Records under the name “Rodriguez.” He recorded two albums in the ’70s with Sussex. Although he never achieved huge success in the United States, he found fame in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1997, his daughter Eva found a website dedicated to him and it led to a tour in South Africa.

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, British poster art, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, 2011

Sony Pictures Classics/Everett Collection

It was also South African fans who were determined to find him which led to the revival of his career. The story was told in the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man (based on his popular song “Sugar Man”) and helped Rodriguez find fame all over the world. When he was not working on music, he worked in demolition and production line work and was always working toward making Detroit a better place to live. He even ran for public office several times.

After the popularity of the documentary, he started performing again and became more well-known in the United States. He released several more albums in the late 2010s and appeared on talk shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Rodriguez was also featured on CNN, 60 Minutes, and other big media outlets talking about the resurgence of his career, proving that anything is possible.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 08: American folk musician Rodriguez attends the 2013 National Board Of Review Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on January 8, 2013 in New York City

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He said in 2013, “Absolutely it’s a transformation. I’ve been chasing music since I was 16. I’m a solid 70 now, so that this occurred at all is pretty crazy. That’s quite a twist of luck there, a change of fortune.” May he rest in peace.

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June 2022

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