SYDNEY (AFP) - Michael Chamberlain, whose nine-week-old baby was snatched by a dingo from an Australian campground in a story made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Meryl Streep, has died, his family said on Tuesday (Jan 10).
The 72-year-old, who fought for decades to prove a native wild dog took the infant and his wife did not kill her, passed away reportedly after suffering complications from acute leukaemia.
"Given Michael's death was unexpected, I would ask that the media please consider that Michael's wife and all of his children are deeply grieving and need some space," his now ex-wife Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton said in a statement.
Azaria disappeared from a tent near Uluru, or Ayers Rock, in 1980 in an incident that sparked decades of debate in Australia over whether her mother Lindy, who was jailed for murder, was responsible for the death.
She always insisted a dingo grabbed the baby, but her version was widely doubted by the Australian public until a coroner finally ruled in 2012 that a wild dog did take the child.
The convictions of Lindy Chamberlain and Michael, who was given a suspended sentence for being an accessory, were overturned in 1988 after the chance find of a piece of Azaria's clothing near a dingo lair.
An inquest was subsequently reopened after new information from the Chamberlains' counsel about dingo attacks, including a nine-year-old boy who was killed by a wild dog in 2001 and a two-year-old girl who died in 2005.
The case inspired the 1988 hit film A Cry In The Dark, starring Streep and Sam Neill, along with books, a TV mini-series and even an opera, and was followed closely by foreign media, making it a global cause celebre.
"Throughout their cruel ordeal & the years of injustice, Micheal (sic)Chamberlain maintained that quiet unassuming dignity - an impressive man RIP," Neill tweeted.