The groundbreaking original actor, dancer, singer and artist David Dalaithngu has died at the age of 68

The pioneering original actor David Dalaithngu AM has died at the age of 68.

Dalaithngu was from the Mandhalpingu clan of the Yolŋu people and was raised in Arnhem country.

The news of the actor’s passing was shared with a statement from South Australian Premier Steven Marshall.

“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 Dalaithngu AM,” the statement said.

Dalaithngu was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and was told he had only months left to live.

A documentary about his life was created after the diagnosis, called ‘My name is Gulpilil’ – a film about the actor’s journey.

Marshall wrote: “I was so lucky to meet David Dalaithngu on a number of occasions – most recently in March this year at the premiere of his latest film” My Name is Gulpilil “, in which he tells his own story, directed by Molly Reynolds.

This last film, 50 years after his breakthrough on screen, saw David Dalaithngu credited for the first time in his career as a producer – along with Reynolds, filmmaker Rolf de Heer and Yolŋu filmmaker Peter Djigirr.

“He was a man who loved his country and his culture, and he was a man who took it to the world.

“My thoughts are with his family and his dear friend and caregiver Mary Hood.”

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Footage contains a rare glimpse into the early career of legend David Gulpilil.

Pioneering on the big screen

Dalaithngu was cast in Walkabout in 1971, making him one of the first Aboriginal characters portrayed on the big screen.

He was also praised for his role in the 1976 film Storm Boy.

In 1987, he was awarded a membership of the Order of Australia.

Dalaithngu’s family has stated that his name and picture can be used in accordance with his wishes after his death.


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