The Dunolly-bred canine star of the hit Australian movie Red Dog, Koko, has died in Perth.
Red Dog producer Nelson Woss said he was devastated to lose his “best mate’” from a congestive heart disease diagnosed this year.
The seven-year-old red cloud kelpie became the country’s best-known dog when he featured in the hit film about a freewheeling canine who united a Pilbara mining community in the 1970s.
Kriv Stenders’ warm-hearted drama, which starred Josh Lucas and Rachael Taylor, was based on a Louis de Bernieres novel about a real dog who roamed the West Australian outback.
Dunolly couple Len and Carol Hobday bred Koko.
Animal trainer Luke Hura discovered Koko when the Hobdays took the dog to a show in 2009.
Carol Hobday told the Bendigo Advertiser in August last year that Koko was “always a darling dog”.
“He used to go down the road to the bakery with me and he’d just sit out the front and wait,’’ she said.
Carol said she always knew Koko was special and they always intended on keeping him.
Ironically, the couple named Koko after an earlier dog who died from a heart condition.
“We lost one to a heart murmur and his name was Koko,” Carol said. “I loved him to shreds and when this one was born I said, this one’s going to be my Koko.”
Woss said Hura and Stenders realised Koko was “an outgoing dog with a beautiful temperament and star quality”.
After the shoot, Woss took Koko home, then travelled with him around the country to promote Red Dog last year. He was being treated for his heart condition until passing away peacefully yesterday.
“Koko became Australia’s favourite dog,” Woss said.
“He certainly changed my life forever.
“I’ll miss his companionship, his remarkable outgoing, friendly nature and the many long walks that we enjoyed together in Perth and around the country.”
Red Dog was a surprise triumph at the box office, taking more than $21 million to be eighth on the list of highest-grossing Australian films of all time, then became the country’s third highest-selling DVD.
It won best film at the first Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards this year.
Koko also won best dog in a foreign film at the Golden Collar Awards in Los Angeles and a portrait of him and Woss by Adam Cullen received a special commendation in the Archibald Prize this year.
As the box office mounted, the owner and his dog appeared on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald last year, photographed at their local cafe where Koko had his own cup.
“Following the film’s publicity tour, Koko was retired to a life of long walks, good food and lots of pats,’’ said Woss.
He would sleep beneath the producer’s desk while he worked and made occasional public appearances in return for donations to either the Perth’s Shenton Park Dog Refuge (he was unofficial patron) or the RSPCA.
Mr Woss said fans could honour Koko by making a donation to the refuge.