Sixto Rodriguez, the songwriter and sole subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, has died at age 81. The saddening news was announced on his official website and social media pages with no specific cause of death stated. “It is with great sadness that we at 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. Rodriguez was 81 years old. May His Dear Soul Rest In Peace.” 

Born and raised in Michigan, Rodriguez struggled to find an audience while trying to cultivate his musical career. He recorded two albums, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming to Reality, featuring songs including “Sugar Man” and “I Wonder,” with neither album drawing national attention or widespread success. After his second LP failed to sell, Rodriguez largely abandoned music, instead focusing on his blue-collar production line job, and even running for Mayor of Detroit in 1981. 

For many aspiring artists, the story would end there. However, while Rodriguez’s music may not have resonated with U.S audiences, it struck a chord with audiences abroad, specifically in Botswana, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He had attained cult phenom status in Australia, and his songs had become anti-apartheid anthems for South Africans; there were even false rumors of his premature death running rampant among his international fanbase. After his daughter found news of his legendary status in South Africa, Rodriguez came out of retirement and toured the country in 1998. Soon enough “Sugar Man” became a cult classic, being covered by Paolo Nutini, South African band Just Jinger, and was even sampled by Nas.

Nearly 15 years later, and 40 years since his albums first came out, Rodriguez’s music began to stick with U.S audiences. ​​His unlikely story became the subject of the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature that year. The newfound fame led Rodriguez to perform with a full orchestra on “The Late Show With David Letterman” and play at music festivals and venues around the world, including a sold-out performance here in Philly at World Cafe Live in December of 2012.

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

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN - Official UK Trailer - An Award-Winning Documentary