David Gulpilil, a titanic force in Australian cinema, dies after lung cancer diagnosis

Indigenous actor David Gulpilil, one of Australia’s greatest artists, has died four years after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“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,” the South Australian premier, Steven Marshall, said in a statement on Monday night.

Gulpilil was from the Mandhalpingu clan of the Yolŋu people and raised in Arnhem land. In his later years, he was a resident of Murray Bridge south-east of Adelaide.

“An actor, dancer, singer and painter, he was also one of the greatest artists Australia has ever,” the premier said.

Gulpilil made his name in the 1971 movie Walkabout and 1976’s Storm Boy. He was described in a recent Guardian review as a “titanic force in Australian cinema”.

Marshall said Gulpilil’s life was not without struggles. “He encountered racism and discrimination and lived with the pressures of the divide between his traditional lifestyle and his public profile,” the premier said.

Gulpilil’s last film was a documentary about his own life, My Name Is Gulpilil directed by Molly Reynolds, which was released earlier this year.

The actor was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017 and the SA premier said he wasn’t expected to survive the film’s shooting. “Yet it was no surprise to anyone that he was front and centre on opening night, where he would receive his final standing ovation.”

The Guardian’s five-star review of My Name is Gulpili noted people in the entertainment industry sometimes speak about performers having the “it” factor but “nobody in the world has ever had ‘it’ quite like the great Yolŋu actor David Gulpilil”.

“Reynolds understands that Gulpilil isn’t just a great actor but a portal to a different way of thinking, a different way of being, even a different state of consciousness,” Luke Buckmaster wrote in March. “If you think that sounds like hyperbole, you have not seen a David Gulpilil movie.”

Gulpilil’s acting career spanned 50 years. His films included The Last Wave, Crocodile Dundee, The Tracker, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Ten Canoes and Charlie’s Country.

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