David Gulpilil, a pioneering Aboriginal Australian actor who starred in the first two Crocodile Dundee movies and Rabbit-Proof Fence, died on Monday following a battle with lung cancer. Gulpilil also starred in Walkabout, The Right Stuff and Dark Age. In 2014, he won awards around the world for his performance in Charlie's Country, which he also co-wrote. Gulpilil was 68.
Gulpilil's death was announced 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)," Marshall said, reports The Hollywood Reporter. Gulpilil was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.
The actor became an international sensation in 1971 when he starred in Walkabout, a survival film directed by Nicolas Roeg. He played the teenage Aboriginal boy who helped two young white school children who get lost in the Australian outback. Gulpilil earned his first Best Actor nomination at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards for 1976's Storm Boy. He finally won the award for the first time over 25 years later for Rolf de Heer's 2002 film The Tracker. He won the award for a second time for Charlie's Country, which was also directed by de Heer. He was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Phillip Noyce.
The idea for Charlie's Country came during a low point in Gulpilil's life. He was in prison for aggravated assault at the time when de Heer visited him and was shocked to see the condition the former star was in. The two decided to work on new projects that would give Gulpilil renewed interest in making films. The movie was critically acclaimed outside of Australia, earning Gulpilil the Un Certain Regard best actor award at the Cannes International Film Festival. It was also picked as Australia's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Gulpilil's other credits include The Last Wave, The Right Stuff, Dead Heart, The Proposition, Baz Luhrmann's Australia, Goldstone, and 2019's Storm Boy. He also played Neville Bell in Crocodile Dundee and Crocodile Dundee II. He became a member of the Order of Australia in 1987 and was honored throughout his life for representing Aboriginal culture. In 2019, he received the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee lifetime achievement award. "To everyone, thank you for watching me ... never forget me while I am here," he said in a pre-recorded video shown during the ceremony. "I will never forget you. I will still remember you even though it won't go on forever. I will still remember."