Malik Bendjelloul, 36; directed ‘Sugar Man’ movie

Malik Bendjelloul won the Oscar for best documentary in 2013 with his debut feature, “Searching for Sugar Man.’’
Associated Press/TT/file 2012
Malik Bendjelloul won the Oscar for best documentary in 2013 with his debut feature, “Searching for Sugar Man.’’

NEW YORK — Malik Bendjelloul, a Swedish filmmaker who won the 2013 Academy Award for best documentary with his debut feature, “Searching for Sugar Man,” about a forgotten American balladeer who, unwittingly, had achieved fame halfway around the world, was found dead Tuesday in Stockholm. He was 36.

Police confirmed the death without stating a cause.

A largely inexperienced filmmaker when he started the project, Mr. Bendjelloul edited “Searching for Sugar Man” in his Stockholm apartment and paid for most of it himself.


The film tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Detroit who recorded two blues-tinged folk rock albums under the single name Rodriguez in the early 1970s and then vanished from the music scene, a casualty of poor publicity.

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For decades he supported himself and three daughters doing manual labor, unaware that his music — songs of protest and hardscrabble life rendered in a heartfelt tenor — had resonated in South Africa. Victims of apartheid especially admired his anthems of struggle. The film takes its title from “Sugar Man,” a song about a drug dealer that appeared on Rodriguez’s 1970 album, “Cold Fact.”

The film unearths Rodriguez’s tale in the manner of a detective story, telling of the search for information about the singer that had been started by an ardent fan, Stephen Segerman, a Cape Town record store owner.

Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis called it “a hugely appealing documentary about fans, faith, and an enigmatic Age of Aquarius musician who burned bright and hopeful before disappearing.”

Bendjelloul was born in Ystade, at Sweden’s southern tip, and grew up in Angelholm.


As a youth, he appeared in a recurring role in the Swedish television series “Ebba and Didrik,” about siblings in a seaside village. (The director was his uncle.)

Mr. Bendjelloul studied journalism at the University of Kalmar and went on to make short documentary features for Swedish television featuring interviews with musicians. Restless, he quit his job in 2006 and traveled to South Africa in search of an original story.

In Cape Town he met Segerman, who in 1997 had created a website, The Great Rodriguez Hunt, hoping to gather information about the singer. When Bendjelloul heard the story of Rodriguez, he was astonished.

“This was the greatest, the most amazing, true story I’d ever heard, an almost archetypal fairy tale,” he said in a 2012 interview with The Times. “. . . It has the human element, the music aspect, a resurrection and a detective story.”