Iconic First Nations actor, dancer, singer and painter David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu has died at the age of 68 following a four-year battle with lung cancer. South Australian Premier Steven Marshall confirmed the news in a statement late on Monday night.
Born to the Mandhalpingu clan of the Yolngu people and raised in the traditional ways in Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory, his skill as an accomplished hunter, tracker and ceremonial dancer brought him to the attention of British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg.
Roeg cast the then-teenage Gulpilil in the lead of his highly acclaimed 1971 feature “Walkabout,” turning him into an international celebrity overnight.
Five years later, he became a household name and legend among a generation of Australians as ‘Fingerbone Bill’ in Henri Safran’s adaptation of Colin Thiele’s famed novel “Storm Boy” (he later played the character’s father in the 2018 remake).
Acclaimed work in some of Australia’s most famous films followed. In the 1970s he had a major supporting role alongside Dennis Hopper in Philippe Mora’s “Mad Dog Morgan,” and dominated the screen alongside Richard Chamberlin in Peter Weir’s haunting “The Last Wave”. He also popped up on TV a lot, most notably in multiple roles on the famed series “Boney”.
In the 1980s he was the smiling mate of Paul Hogan’s title character in “Crocodile Dundee” and its first sequel, starred alongside an actual giant crocodile in “Dark Age,” and appeared in Philip Kaufman’s celebrated adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff”. He was also appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1987.
The 1990s was fairly quiet professionally, his biggest credits being the film adaptation of the play “Dead Heart” and a role in Wim Wenders’ “Until the End of the World,” but the 2000s saw him rise to prominence again with multiple awards wins for the title role in Rolf de Heer’s 2002 Australian western “The Tracker”.
Gulpilil and de Heer went on to two more collaborations that won many awards and scored raves out of Cannes and other global festivals including 2006’s “Ten Canoes” and 2013’s “Charlie’s Country”.
Gulpilil also starred in some highly successful films that also scored rave reviews including John Hillcoat’s iconic 2005 western “The Proposition,” Phil Noyce’s 2002 period drama “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” Catriona McKenzie’s 2013 generational drama “Satellite Boy,” Ivan Sen’s “Mystery Road” follow-up in 2016’s “Goldstone,” and as the mysterious King George in Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” in 2008.
In 2017, Gulpilil was diagnosed with lung cancer and it was estimated had six months to live. He defied the odds and went on to star in the documentary about his life “My Name Is Gulpilil” which was released earlier this year with the film’s premiere where he received his final standing ovation.
Our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends and carer Mary Hood.