Rodriguez, Detroit Artist of ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ Fame, Dies at 81

Rodriguez in 2022 (Photo by Doug Seymour)

Sixto Rodriguez, the Detroit singer-songwriter known simply as “Rodriguez” and the subject of the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary “Searching For Sugar Man,” died Aug. 9 at age 81. Though no cause of death was immediately released, Rodriguez experienced a stroke in February and underwent subsequent surgery, but was reportedly recovering well.

“It is with great sadness that we … announce that Sixto Diaz Rodriguez has passed away earlier today,” reads a post to Rodriguez’s social media accounts. “We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his daughters – Sandra, Eva and Regan – and to all his family.”

Rodriguez became the unwitting subject of “Searching For Sugar Man,” a documentary filmed by two South African fans who set out to find what became of the artist, who released two albums – Cold Fact and Coming To Reality –  in the early 1970s that didn’t sell well in the U.S. But in apartheid-era South Africa, he won a following as an “underground” artist that made authoritarian censors itch, and making Rodriguez a legend in that country – unbeknownst to him.

And despite the fact that Rodriguez would reemerge from time to time to perform in Australia and New Zealand, he remained a cult figure in South Africa until being “rediscovered” in the 1990s, brought back to the country for a series of arena sellouts and spawning “Searching For Sugar Man.”

In 2008, his albums were re-released by Light In The Attic Records and Rodriguez was brought to the attention of Christian Bernhardt at The Agency Group, who became his agent. He was most recently represented by Seth Rappaport and Steve Martin at Paladin Artists.


The album re-releases and film’s success ignited new interest in Rodriguez, who resumed touring in earnest. A 2013 Radio City Music Hall booking sold out in one day, followed by a sellout at NYC’s Beacon Theater. Shows booked before the film’s release had to be moved to larger rooms. 

“He sent me the records and they blew me away,” Bernhardt told Pollstar for a 2013 cover story. “I thought this is so good that it would catch on eventually. I didn’t have any idea it would catch on like this. 

“He was on the road three times in the U.S. since 2008 and hardly anybody came to see him. Now, obviously, the movie revealed everything and made him much bigger than he ever anticipated.”

Bernhardt added “We don’t intend for this to be over next year.”

And it wasn’t. Rodriguez continued to tour until 2020, including bookings at major festivals including Coachella, Glastonbury, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Sasquatch!, and Australia’s Byron Bay Bluesfest.

His final show reported to Pollstar was Feb. 17, 2020 at City Winery in Atlanta, where he sold out 318 tickets for a gross of $25,318. Overall, Rodriguez reported 126 shows to Pollstar dating back to April 2009. Over a little more than a decade of touring, Rodriguez reported 312,782 tickets sold and grossed $15,781,743, averaging 2,768 tickets sold per show and and grossing $139,661.

Detroit-area photographer Doug Seymour, who toured with Rodriguez and shot the photo that graced Pollstar’s cover in 2013, remained friends with the artist and his family until his passing.

“Rodriguez was very excited to be featured on the cover of Pollstar in 2013,” Seymour says. “He was a big fan of the magazine so it meant a great deal to him. When I handed him a copy of the physical magazine he said ‘Thanks for making me famous,’ and I could tell he was genuinely excited about the feature. I laughed and said, ‘Rodriguez, I think it’s the other way around.’ I feel fortunate I got to go on the road with him so many years in a row. It was like a dream come true. RIP Rodriguez. I miss you my friend.”