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‘Crocodile Dundee’ actor David Gulpilil dies aged 68

He'd been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017

By Tom Skinner

a screenshot of David Gulpilil in the documentary 'My Name Is Gulpilil'
David Gulpilil in the trailer for 'My Name Is Gulpilil'. (CREDIT: Madman Films/Still).

‘Crocodile Dundee’ star David Gulpilil has died at the age of 68.

The indigenous Australian actor, who portrayed Neville Bell in the 1986 action-comedy, passed away four years after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Gulpilil’s death was confirmed in a statement from the South Australian premier, Steven Marshall, today (November 29).

“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,” he wrote.

Gulpilil made his debut film appearance in 1971’s ‘Walkabout’, which was directed by Nicolas Roeg. He went on to feature in ‘The Last Wave’ (1977), ‘Dark Age’ (1987), ‘Dead Heart’ (1996), ‘The Tracker’ (2002) and more.

He reprised his role of Neville Bell in ‘Crocodile Dundee II’ in 1988, and appeared in a number of television shows between 1971 and 2017.

The late actor’s last appearance came in a documentary about his life, ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’, which arrived earlier this year. It was directed by Molly Reynolds, and produced by Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr, David Gulpilil and Reynolds.

Having been diagnosed with cancer in 2017, Gulpilil wasn’t expected to survive the shooting of the project.  “Yet it was no surprise to anyone that he was front and centre on opening night, where he would receive his final standing ovation,” said SA premier Marshall.

In a trailer for the film, which you can watch below, the actor attributed his health condition to “too much tobacco I’ve been smoking”.

An official description of ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’ reads: “Nearing the end of his extraordinary, culture-clashing life, the great Australian actor David Gulpilil performs one last time. Engaging with the camera as never before, he calls upon his electrifying, mesmerising screen presence to connect with what is for him, his final audience.

“Gulpilil shows us what it was to live a dizzying mix of traditional Aboriginal ways and modern Hollywood excess.

“He reminisces about his films, from ‘Storm Boy’ and ‘Crocodile Dundee’ to ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘Charlie’s Country’, and the effects of his fame on a tribal boy from Arnhem Land.”

It adds: “He explores his worlds of acting, of dancing, and painting…and what it is to stare down death. But life interferes with David’s march towards his personal end…in his words, ‘I should have been dead long time ago!’

“In this, his final film, the great Australian actor David Gulpilil shows what a survivor he is, and he how came to be the living legend we know him to be.”

Gulpilil received a nomination in the best supporting actor category at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards for his role in ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ (20o2). That same year, he was given his first nod in the leading actor category for ‘The Tracker’.

The actor received the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee lifetime achievement award in 2019. He revealed in a pre-recorded message that he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.

“To everyone, thank you for watching me … never forget me while I am here,” he said at the time. “I will never forget you. I will still remember you even though it won’t go on forever. I will still remember.”