David Gulpilil, the revered Indigenous Australian actor and dancer, known for his performances in films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence, Crocodile Dundee, The Tracker and Walkabout, has died aged 68 following a battle with cancer.
Gulpilil’s death was confirmed Monday in a statement by 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),” he posted on social media.
Gulpilil received mainstream recognition for his performances in blockbuster comedy Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Phillip Noyce’s drama Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), which garnered the actor his first best actor prize from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.
He was also well known for 2002 feature The Tracker, in which he played the title character, and further collaborations with director Rolf de Heer on 2006 film Ten Canoes (2006), filmed in the Aboriginal language, and Charlie’s Country (2013).
Gulpilil won the Un Certain Regard best actor prize at Cannes as well as a second AACTA award for Charlie’s Country, which was something of a comeback for the actor after spending time in jail for aggravated assault.
The pioneering actor also had memorable supporting roles in The Proposition (2005), Baz Luhrmann’s romantic epic Australia (2008), and Australian hit Satellite Boy (2012).
Born David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu in 1953 as a member of the Yolnu people, Gulpilil was raised in a traditional lifestyle in northern Australia. He was known as a skilled tribal dancer and in 1969 British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg cast the sixteen-year-old unknown to play a key role in his 1971 movie Walkabout, catapulting Gulpilil to fame.
He would go on to star in acclaimed movies such as Storm Boy (1976) and The Last Wave (1977).
Gulpilil most recently re-teamed with Another Country director Molly Reynolds on a documentary about the actor’s life, My Name Is Gulpilil. The AACTA-nominated film premiered at the 2021 Adelaide Festival.