David Gulpilil, the Aboriginal Australian actor who starred in “Crocodile Dundee” and was acclaimed for performances in films like “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and “Charlie’s Country,” has died from cancer at the age of 68.
“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),” said South Australia Premier Steven Marshall in a statement announcing the actor’s death.
Gulpilil is best known internationally for his 1986 performance in “Crocodile Dundee” as Neville Bell, an Aborigine whom Paul Hogan’s Mick Dundee encounters during his travels in the Outback. Prior to that film, Gulpilil had already established himself as a veteran actor in Australia’s New Wave of cinema with roles in films like Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” and Philippe Mora’s “Mad Dog Morgan.”
In 2002, he earned his first AACTA nomination for his performance in Philip Noyce’s “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” a film about a pair of Aborigine girls who are forcibly taken to a government settlement and walk 1,500 miles through the Australian desert to find their mother again. In 2013, he won an AACTA and a Cannes Un Certain Regard award for his performance in “Charlie’s Country,” a film he co-wrote with director Rolf de Heer about an aborigine man who feels out of place in a modern Australian society that he feels is trying to stamp out his people’s culture.
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Gulpilil’s final film, the documentary “My Name is Gulpilil,” is a career retrospective that he produced with director Molly Reynolds and began after Gulpilil was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017. The film released earlier this year, 50 years after Gulpilil’s acting debut.
“David Gulpilil was from the Mandhalpingu clan of the Yolŋu people, and was raised in the traditional ways in Arnhem Land. In his later years he was a resident of Murray Bridge,” Marshall said in his statement. “He was a brother, son, friend, father, grandfather and husband. An actor, dancer, singer and painter, he was also one of the greatest artists Australia has ever seen. He was a man who loved his land and his culture, and he was a man who took it to the world.”