STOCKHOLM (AP) — Malik Bendjelloul, director of the acclaimed “Searching for Sugar Man” documentary, was widely known for his enthusiasm, kindness and high spirits – so the news Wednesday that he had taken his own life shocked colleagues around the world.
Bendjelloul’s brother Johar Bendjelloul told Swedish daily Aftonbladet that his 36-year-old younger brother committed suicide Tuesday after struggling with depression for a short period.
“Life is not always simple,” Johar Bendjelloul was quoted as saying, adding that receiving the message that his brother had committed suicide was the worst thing he had ever experienced.
“I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t know,” he said.
Bendjelloul rose to international fame in 2013 when his debut feature film, “Searching for Sugar Man,” won an Oscar for best documentary. The film tells the story of how Detroit-based singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who had flopped in the United States, became a superstar in apartheid-era South Africa without knowing about it.
British film producer Simon Chinn, who produced “Searching for Sugar Man” together with Bendjelloul, said he was shocked and deeply saddened by the news of his friend’s passing.
“It seems so unbelievable,” Chinn told The Associated Press over the telephone. “I saw him two weeks ago in London. He was so full of life, hope and optimism and happiness, and looking forward to the future and future collaborations. We were talking about working together and talking about specific ideas, so the idea that he is no longer is just too hard to process.”
The soft-spoken Bendjelloul worked as a reporter for Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT before resigning to backpack around the world. He got the idea for “Searching for Sugar Man” during one of his trips, but it would take him more than four years to complete the film.
SVT’s culture chief Eva Beckman said his death was incomprehensible.
“One always says it is unbelievable when a young person dies, or when anybody dies, but it is even more unbelievable with Malik,” she said Wednesday. “Malik was simply such an incredibly alive person.”
Beckman also praised Bendjelloul’s strong storytelling skills and his willingness to experiment with new formats.
“What really set him apart from everybody else was his passion for storytelling. He was a fantastic storyteller,” she said.