Johannesburg, July 4 (Reuters): An African herdsman who became the world’s most famous Kalahari Bushman after starring in the apartheid-era film The Gods Must Be Crazy, and several sequels, has died collecting wood in the Namibian countryside.
!xau, whose name is pronounced with the typical Bushman click used in southern Africa, gained worldwide recognition for his roles as a primitive hunter-gatherer in the controversial 1980 film and several sequels.
But the glamorous lifestyle never appealed to the reluctant star and he returned to the southern African bush when his film career petered out in the early 1990s. He was believed to be about 59 years old, associates said on Friday.
”Apparently he went out to find wood on Tuesday and never returned,” said Mireschen Troskie-Marx of Mimosa Films, which produced the film.
”His family went out looking for him and he was found dead in a field. We believe it was of natural causes.”
!xau's signature role was Xixo, a member of the Khoisan or ”Bushmen” tribes of Africa's Kalahari desert who finds a Coca-Cola bottle dropped from an aeroplane and mistakes it for a gift from the gods.
The movie was slammed by some critics for reflecting the racism of apartheid South Africa in its depiction of the Khoisan, southern Africa's earliest inhabitants who have seen their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle undermined by the relentless encroachment of modern civilisation.
But the film became a worldwide comedy hit and !xau developed into an unlikely star, jetting to Europe, the United States and Asia, where he appeared in a number of Hong Kong kung-fu movies.
!xau never had much use for stardom. Director Jamie Uys told one interviewer that when his protege received his first $300 for working on the film, the star let the banknotes blow away because he did not see the value of cash.
And in a rare account of !xau's life after stardom faded, the Namibian newspaper reported in 2000 that he had built a brick house and bought a second-hand car Ä employing a chauffeur because he himself did not know how drive.
The newspaper said !xau owned several head of cattle and farmed maize, pumpkins and beans on a small plot of land. He received royalties of about $200 per month from his movies, but had to support a large number of children and grandchildren, the newspaper said.
Producers at Mimosa Films said they kept in contact with !xau, who they described as happy in his simple life in the Kalahari.
”He went to America, to Paris, to Japan. He was a world star, but he came back and he went back to his old roots,” Troskie-Marx said.“Nothing that was important to us was important to him.”