Malik Bendjelloul dies at 36; Oscar-winning director of ‘Searching for Sugar Man’

Malik Bendjelloul, director of "Waiting for Sugarman," in 2013.
Malik Bendjelloul, director of “Waiting for Sugarman,” in 2013.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Malik Bendjelloul, the “Searching for Sugar Man” director who won an Oscar for the documentary film he edited at his kitchen table, died in Stockholm on Tuesday, Swedish police said. He was 36.

Police released few details, saying only that he was found dead at 4:30 p.m. local time and that a cause of death was not immediately known. The Associated Press reported that foul play was not suspected.

“Searching for Sugar Man” chronicled the life, career and rediscovery of Detroit singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who released two LPs in the 1970s but then faded into obscurity. Bendjelloul’s documentary traced the musician back to Detroit, and the popularity of the film revitalized Rodriguez’s career and reputation.

“Sugar Man” was the feature film debut for Bendjelloul, who had previously directed music-related documentaries for television. The movie premiered on opening night of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it was a surprise sensation. It went on to win awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, Writers Guild of America and International Documentary Assn. It also picked up numerous critics prizes on its way to grossing more than $3.5 million at the U.S. box office.


“The idea that this was my first film … it feels like some kind of strange dream,” Bendjelloul said in a 2013 Times interview just before the Academy Awards ceremony.

The reaction to “Sugar Man” was “insane,” he added, “because it was done on my kitchen table in my apartment in Stockholm without any money at all. It was an extremely primitive production.”

After news of Bendjelloul’s death, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics, which distributed “Searching for Sugar Man,” said in a statement: “Much like Rodriguez himself, Malik was a genuine person who chased the world for stories to tell. He didn’t chase fame or fortune or awards, although those accolades still found him as many others recognized his storytelling.”

Bendjelloul was born Sept. 14, 1977, in Ystad, Sweden. He is survived by his parents, Hacéne Bendjelloul and Veronica Schildt Bendjelloul, and a brother, Johar Bendjelloul, the AP said.