Sixto Rodriguez, singer-songwriter and focus of Sugar Man documentary, dies aged 81

American musician Sixto Rodriguez performs his first italian concert at Auditorium Manzoni on March 21, 2014 in Bologna, Italy
(Image credit: Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Getty Images)

Singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez has passed away at the age of 81. The news was announced on the Detroit artist's social media and website.

Born in Detroit as the child of Mexican immigrant parents, Sixto Rodriguez recorded two albums with 1970's Cold Fact and 1971's Coming From Reality with little success before abandoning his music career in 1974 and moving on to manual labour jobs before standing for public office. Meanwhile, without his knowledge, his albums had gained a following overseas – especially in South Africa.

His songs became anti-apartheid anthems but his whereabouts were unknown, with rumours of his death in the seventies circulating until the South African fans eventually made contact with the musicians he came out of retirement for his first tour of the country in 1998, playing to over 5,000 people a night.

Rodriguez's remarkable comeback was charted in the Malik Bendjelloul film Searching For Sugar Man in 2012, winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2013. This and the film's soundtrack compilation of Rodriquez's songs lead to a surge of interest in his home country and Europe, with a sold-out US tour.

Was it supposed to happen this way, I don't know," the typically modest Rodriguez reflected with CBC News a decade ago. "Are things predestined to happen? There's also some element of luck involved in this, and I'm very fortunate to have met these people.

"It's never too early or too late it seems to me," he added. 

Sixto Rodriguez is survived by his three daughters. He was separated from his second wife, Konny Koskos.  

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.