Koko, the four-legged star of hit film Red Dog, died in Perth today.
The charismatic red cloud kelpie who won the hearts of Australians in the feelgood blockbuster died of a congestive heart disease that was diagnosed earlier this year. He was seven years old.
Red Dog producer and Koko’s owner Nelson Woss said he was devastated to lose his “best mate”.
“Through the making of Red Dog, Koko became Australia’s favourite dog. He certainly changed my life forever,” said the Subiaco-based filmmaker.
“I will miss his companionship, his remarkable outgoing, friendly nature and the many long walks that we enjoyed together in Perth and around the country. His incredible journey has come to an end," Woss said.
Koko was born in Victoria in 2005 and initially trained as a show dog.
He was discovered by trainer Luke Hura when charged by Woss and Red Dog director Kriv Stenders with finding a star for their adaptation of Louis de Bernieres’ novel about a legendary kelpie who roamed the Pilbara in the 1970s and united communities along the way.
Even before the film was released Koko gave us a glimpse of his winning canine charm in the now-famous Red Dog screen test that went viral and left the country panting for the WA-made movie.
Red Dog went on to become the 8th highest grossing Australian film ever, making over $21 million at the box office. That figure was matched when it was released on DVD, where it sits just behind Hollywood mega-movies Avatar and Finding Nemo on the all-time bestseller charts.
And, like a true star, Koko was trooper when it came to promoting his movie, strolling red carpets across the country and seducing everybody he encountered with his lovely temperament and robust good looks.
Such was the bond formed between Koko and Woss that the owners, Carol and Len Hobday, agreed to let the filmmaker keep the dog for no payment.
In retirement Koko enjoyed the fruits of movie stardom, spending many happy hours walking with Woss around Subiaco and stretching his legs along the Dalkeith Esplanade. He was especially close to Woss’ three-year-old daughter Zella.
After the Red Dog juggernaut wound down Koko continued to make public appearance in exchange for a donation to the Shenton Park Dog Refuge.
"To have Koko’s name associated with us was enormous," said the refuge president Karen Rhodes.
She described how Koko used to visit the refuge on open days with his owner to pose in photos.
"He was so smart, almost too smart for his own good,” she laughed.
"He would sit there and Nelson would make a hand movement and he would speak. It was just amazing to watch. He was totally besotted with Nelson. He seemed like a real one-man dog."
Woss said fans could honour Red Dog by donating to the refuge.