© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sixto Rodriguez, singer-songwriter of 'Searching for Sugar Man' doc, is dead at 81

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The musician Rodriguez has died at age 81, a long life by any standard, but especially for his most passionate fans who once thought he died decades ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MALIK BENDJELLOUL: Everyone knew his songs. Everyone knew his albums, and everyone knew that Rodriguez was completely dead.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That is film director Malik Bendjelloul talking with NPR's Scott Simon in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BENDJELLOUL: There's one story that he shot himself dead on stage. Then there's another story that he OD'd, and that's how he died.

KELLY: None of these stories were true.

SUMMERS: You see, Rodriguez, whose full name was Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, was alive and well living in Detroit when those rumors were swirling. But unknown to him, he was a superstar in South Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS NOT A SONG, IT'S AN OUTBURST: OR THE ESTABLISHMENT'S BLUES")

SIXTO RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) The mayor hides the crime rates, councilwoman hesitates, public gets irate...

KELLY: Rodriguez put out his debut album in 1970. At the time, his lyrics were compared to Bob Dylan, his voice to James Taylor.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS NOT A SONG, IT'S AN OUTBURST: OR THE ESTABLISHMENT'S BLUES")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) This system's going to fall soon...

KELLY: His music career didn't take off in the States, though. Eventually, he hung up his guitar and started doing demolition and construction work instead.

SUMMERS: But in the Southern Hemisphere, his anti-establishment songs caught on, especially among white South Africans against apartheid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BENDJELLOUL: No one knows exactly how the album came, but when it came, it just spread.

KELLY: Now, it's not clear how the rumors about his death came to be either.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BENDJELLOUL: And after 30 years, two detectives in South Africa, like music journalists - who said there are different stories. Which story is the true one? And they found the producer. They call him, and they are, like, full of questions. And the most important thing - how did he die? And he says, no, I saw Rodriguez this morning. He's living down the street.

KELLY: Bendjelloul's 2012 film about Rodriguez's rediscovery called "Searching For Sugar Man" - it won an Oscar. It followed Rodriguez as he went to South Africa to tour, finally face-to-face with the fans who thought they would never see him perform.

SUMMERS: Afterward, Rodriguez told NPR that it was a privilege.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RODRIGUEZ: It's a dream come true. And it's a - and who would have thought?

SUMMERS: Sixto Rodriguez died Tuesday - actually. His official website announced his death but did not provide a cause.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUGAR MAN")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) Sugar man, won't you hurry? 'Cause I'm tired of... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.