Rodriguez, the Detroit singer-songwriter who was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, has died. The news was announced on his official website and social media pages. He was 81.
Sixto Rodriguez was born in Detroit, the child of Mexican immigrant parents. He recorded two albums, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming to Reality, featuring songs including “Sugar Man” and “I Wonder.” Neither of those albums sold well, and he largely ended his music career. He focused on his blue-collar production line job and eventually ran for public office multiple times. In 1981, he ran for Mayor of Detroit.
Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, his music found a major following overseas—most significantly in South Africa. His albums sold in huge numbers and his songs became anti-apartheid anthems. Rumors about his death were rampant until eventually, Rodriguez made contact with fans in South Africa. He came out of retirement and went on his first tour of the country in 1998 to thousands of screaming fans.
Nearly four decades after he first released his albums, he found an audience in the United States. Cold Fact and Coming to Reality were reissued by Light in the Attic in 2009. His improbable story was told in Malik Bendjelloul’s 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Rodriguez performed with an orchestra on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” headlined at New York’s Beacon Theatre, performed at music festivals, and toured the world.