Meet Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of the Oscar nominated documentary Searching for Sugar Man

Posted at 2:11 PM, Feb 19, 2013

The Academy Awards are this Sunday and one of the "Best Documentary" nominees that charmed audiences is "Searching for Sugar Man."

It's the Cinderella story of Detroit folksinger Sixto Rodriguez.  His albums were basically flops in the states, but they were blockbusters overseas.

And he never even knew it.

The documentary "Searching for Sugar Man” details how two South Africans set out to unravel the mystery behind the death of  their 1970s rock icon-- Rodriguez.

In South Africa he'd been bigger than Elvis. In America he was virtually unknown. And the spoiler alert is - Rodriguez was alive and well all along.

We caught up with the singer-songwriter during a sound check before a recent concert in Ann Arbor. The 70-year-old was totally at ease on stage. The recent spotlight shed on his life had him joking backstage.

"Well, I do my own stunts in the film,” Rodriguez chuckled.

He certainly did his own music. But the film reveals the Wayne State grad largely worked as a laborer for all those years while living a modest life in Detroit.

He channeled his political spirit by running for council, Detroit mayor, and even state rep.

"I describe myself as a 'musical political' and that I am urban as opposed to rural,” explained Rodriguez.

He could relate to the working poor, and the injustices of the day.  That struck a chord with the anti- Apartheid movement in South Africa.

His rock-n-roll out-shined the Rolling Stones there.

When Rodriguez found out some 20 years later about his superstar status, it was a magical reunion for both the artist and his fans. He sold out a string of South African concerts in the 90s.

So what did he think about the documentary?

"I didn't want to be in it really.  I thought that it was, well, my personal private life and everything.  So I wasn't sure what [the director] wanted to do, but at the end, he convinced me,” says Rodriguez. “And it has certainly excited my music career."

Saying the film has excited his music career may be an understatement. 

Rolling Stone magazine recently reported he's meeting with producers to discuss his first album in more than 40 years. This gentle poet from Detroit may get his day here in the states yet.  

And if the documentary wins an Oscar?

"It'll mean I can't be reached because I may be in South Africa," he smiled.

Indeed, Rodriguez is now touring in the country where his fans once mistakenly wondered how he died.  He said if the phone should ring on Oscar night, it'll be a thrill.

The Academy Awards are Sunday night, February 24th.  Coverage begins at 7:00 pm on ABC.