N!xau, the diminutive bushman catapulted from the remote sand-swept reaches of the Kalahari Desert to international stardom in the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy,”.
Police officials in the remote area of Tsumkwe in the Namibian part of the Kalahari where Mr. N!xau lived confirmed his death but did not have any details of how or when he died. Mr. N!xau, who was in his late fifties, had been treated for tuberculosis.
His name is a transliteration of his tribal language, which uses clicking noises that have no letter in English.
“The Gods Must Be Crazy” became a worldwide hit and a top-grossing foreign film after its release in 1980. Audiences and critics hailed his portrayal of an earnest bushman with a sheepish smile whose discovery of a Coca-Cola bottle sets off a comedy of errors.
Mr. N!xau starred in several sequels before returning to the familiarity of life as a herdsman raising cattle and vegetables in the Namibian bush.
When he was discovered by the South African director of the film, Jamie Uys, he had only had minimal exposure to modern life.
According to year 2000 article in a Namibian newspaper, he had seen only three white people in his life before being cast and had never seen a settlement larger than the village huts of his San people.
The San are the indigenous hunter-gatherer people of southern Africa. Today, they number about 100,000 and mostly live in the Kalahari.
Not knowing the value of paper money, he let his first wages, $300, blow away after the movie had viraly sold to revenues more than $60M.
By the time of “The Gods Must Be Crazy II,” he had learned the value of money, demanding several hundred thousand dollars before agreeing to be recast in the film.
He said the money was needed to build a cinderblock home with electricity and a water pump for his family, according to the Internet Movie Database Web site.
Director Uys dismissed criticism that it was cruel to take Mr. N!xau out of his home environment. He said he was born to act.
“All bushmen are natural actors. I suppose it’s because they don’t have television, and they spend their evenings telling stories and acting them out. And they don’t have any hang-ups or inhibitions at all,” Uys said in a 1990 interview with the Associated Press.
After the sequel, Mr. N!xau’s career took a zany twist with his appearance in several Hong Kong action films and the Chinese film “The Gods Must Be Funny.”
In one of the films, the spirit of Bruce Lee takes over Mr. N!xau’s character.
After his film career slowed, Mr. N!xau returned home to a newly built brick house. He tended his cattle and raised corn and pumpkins. For a while, he had a car. But he had to employ a driver because he had never learned to drive.
N!xau and Sandra Prinsloo crossed paths in their bewilderment in the Botswanan comedy that became a surprise hit around the world.
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