The canine star of Red Dog, Koko, has died in Perth. The producer of the hit film, Nelson Woss, said he was devastated to lose his "best mate" from a congestive heart disease diagnosed earlier 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-life dog who roamed the West Australian outback.
Initially trained as a show dog, Koko won a working dog competition in 2006. The film's trainer, Luke Hura, discovered him three years later.
Woss said Hura and Stenders realised he was "an outgoing dog with a beautiful temperament and star quality". He learnt more than 50 commands for the film.
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 today.
"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.