David Gulpilil, the legendary indigenous Australian actor who earned international acclaim in Paul Hogan’s “Crocodile Dundee” and Rolf de Heer’s “Charlie’s Country,” has died after a four-year battle with lung cancer. He was 68.
The award-winning thespian’s passing wasby South Australian Premier Steven Marshall: “It is with deep sadness that I share with the people of South Australia the passing of an iconic, once-in-a-generation artist who shaped the history of Australian film and Aboriginal representation on screen – David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (AM).”
Born on July 1, 1953, Gulpilil was raised in the bush and never went to school. He often said he learned English by listening.
“That’s all I know, dancing, singing, spear-throwing and hunting,” heaccording to The Hollywood Reporter. “My father gave me a spear and said make sure you come back, the spear is life.”
He was discovered at 16 when Brit auteur filmmaker Nicholas Roeg spotted him performing a traditional ceremonial dance — and cast him in 1971’s “Walkabout.” The cult hit told the tale of two city-bred siblings stranded in the outback, where they learn to survive with the aid of an Aboriginal boy on his ritual “walkabout” separation from his tribe.
He went on to make an indelible impression during Australia’s cinematic “New Wave” era with naturalistic performances in a trio of films from 1976 and 1977: “Mad Dog Morgan” opposite Dennis Hopper, the children’s classic “Storm Boy” and Peter Weir’s acclaimed “The Last Wave,” with Richard Chamberlain.
Gulpilil is perhaps best-known to mass audiences for 1986’s “Crocodile Dundee,” Australia’s top-grossing film and a major blockbuster in the US. He stole scenes as the dryly witty Neville Bell, an indigenous Australian who encounters Paul Hogan’s Mick Dundee in the bush.
When Bell tells journalist Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) she can’t take his photograph, she responds, “I’m sorry — you believe it will take your spirit away?”
“No,” Gulpilil’s Bell replies, “You’ve got the lens cap on.”
Within a year of being crowned an international film star, he was awarded the A.M. (Member of the Order of Australia) in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for “services to the arts through the interpretation of Aboriginal culture.”
He earned a best-supporting actor nomination in 2002 from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards for his performance as a tracker pursuing three children who escape government-enforced servitude in Philip Noyce’s “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”
He later appeared opposite Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s epic 2008 flop “Australia,” before hitting hard times and temporarily dropping off the cinematic radar.
After years of struggle and a stint behind bars for aggravated assault, filmmaker Rolf de Heer visited Gulpilil in jail. Shocked by the conditions his former colleague was living in — the director offered professional motivation for the actor upon his release.
It would result in what many consider the role of his career: Gulpililfor his haunting performance in 2013’s “Charlie Country,” which he co-wrote with de Heer and starred in as an aging man wanting to retreat to his Aboriginal cultural roots.
In July 2019, Gulpilil. He revealed in a prerecorded message that he had been battling lung cancer since 2017.
“To everyone, thank you for watching me … never forget me while I am here,”. “I will never forget you. I will still remember you even though it won’t go on forever. I will still remember.”
He is survived by his wife Miriam Ashley and son Jamie Gulpilil. A new documentary about his life,premiered in September.
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