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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Goodbye, big brother

Fans, colleagues and politicians mourn the death of well-loved and well-respected veteran TV actor Huang Wenyong
The Straits Times - April 22, 2013
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Goodbye, big brother
By Boon Chan And Lisabel Ting

 Goodbye, da ge (Chinese for big brother). Tributes to the veteran Channel 8 actor poured in yesterday as his MediaCorp colleagues paid their respects at his wake and politicians and fans mourned his death online.

The picture that emerged was of a well-liked and well-respected personality who was always cheerful and fun to be around.

"He could be anybody's best friend, young or old. And he was always there, it was only a question of whether you wanted to approach him for help or not," said actor Pierre Png, 39, breaking into a smile at the memory of Huang calling him "Handsome!" in his jovial, irreverent fashion on the set of Rescue 995 (2012) and other dramas they acted in.

He was among the 15 or so MediaCorp artistes paying their respects at Huang's wake at Teochew Funeral Parlour in Ubi Road 4 yesterday afternoon, many having made their way there after rehearsals for the Star Awards to be held later in the evening. Sources told Life! the funeral will be held at an undisclosed location on Wednesday.

Malaysian-born Huang had graced local television screens for more than three decades and acted in over 100 Chinese dramas and sitcoms, remaining boyishly ageless and trim throughout.

He died at the Singapore General Hospital of stage four lymphoma cancer, a cancer of the lymph nodes, last Saturday evening with his wife, son and daughter by his side. He was 60.

His final series was Chinese New Year drama It's A Wonderful Life, which he had filmed at the end of last year. The first part of the two-part Star Awards 2013 ceremony last night was to pay tribute to him. He is nominated for two awards which will be presented at the second part of the awards show on Sunday.

While filming It's A Wonderful Life, actor and comedian Dennis Chew said that Huang had kept his illness under wraps and even attributed his sharp weight loss to food poisoning.

Interviewed at the wake, Chew, 39, said Huang had looked out for him when he was a newbie and recalled "a lot of happy memories of him", including karaoke sessions together.

He added: "He's really a very good guy and it's always a happy occasion when he's around. Our hearts are all very heavy today."

Huang, who joined the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in 1980, was among the pioneer batch of artistes to enter the local entertainment industry.

His breakout performance came in 1984 when he assumed the now-iconic role of Chinese immigrant Ah Shui in the 27-episode historical drama The Awakening - one of the pioneering local Chinese dramas.

Another role for which he will be fondly remembered is his turn as the lottery-striking taxi driver Ong Kim Lai in the comedy Don't Worry, Be Happy, for which he won a Star Award for Best Comedy Performer in 2000.

He is the only artiste who has been nominated in the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes category at the annual Star Awards every single year since it began in 1994, although he won only once, in 2011.

He is nominated in this year's Star Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as Han Jianren in the drama Joys Of Life and is also vying for a spot as one of the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes.

Despite his illustrious achievements, he never talked down to his younger colleagues and always had time for them, noted actress Julie Tan, 21.

As a newcomer on the set of MediaCorp drama series A Tale Of 2 Cities (2011), she was starstruck when she had to act opposite the veteran actor who played her father. She would forget her lines and also had difficulty losing her temper at her onscreen dad for a scene.

But she recalled that Huang was "very patient" throughout and even advised her to just "gan gan lai yi ge" (Chinese for just go ahead and unleash one) for that pivotal scene.

Long-time colleague Lin Meijiao, 49, was also at the wake and said that she and Huang had been cast as an onscreen couple several times. They always had plenty to chat about and even discussed "where to go on vacation after we had retired".

She also remembers that after filming, he would go shopping for ingredients and head home to cook for his family.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao yesterday quoted his wife, who was not named, saying that he had undergone chemotherapy for his cancer and doctors had given him three months to live. The family had been preparing for him to be discharged from hospital to return home and undergo alternative therapy when he died.

His son declined to speak to the media at the wake and referred all further queries to MediaCorp, which had issued a short statement confirming his death. It said: "Wenyong will be dearly missed by everyone in MediaCorp - as a professional craftsman, a beloved colleague and a true friend."

Many fans, including politicians, have taken to social media to pay tribute to Huang.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Member of Parliament for Marine Parade, wrote on Facebook: "Many of us who grew up with the early Channel 8 Mandarin serials will remember Huang Wenyong as an iconic personality. And he had remained that way for many years after that.

"It's a funny, sad feeling isn't it? There will be this comfortable, familiar piece missing in our TV landscape."

Mr Baey Yam Keng, MP for Tampines, also wrote on Facebook that he knew Huang from a play which he produced in 2000. "Although we didn't manage to work together, I remember him as a very friendly and humble person, no airs at all. RIP, the first ah ge (big brother) of local TV," Mr Baey, who has a keen interest in drama, posted.

Other notable figures, such as Nominated MP and actress Janice Koh, weighed in via the micro- blogging site Twitter.

She wrote: "Saddened by the news of Huang Wenyong's passing. A real icon of Singapore television and a dedicated actor who has given us many hours of entertainment and escape through our little screens."

On Internet forums, many netizens were initially sceptical of news of Huang's death as he was the subject of a death hoax last month. Then, rumours had spread that he had died of cancer, but they were quickly debunked by his manager, who said he was alive and "fine".

Once the news was confirmed, though, netizens began to reminisce about how Huang's television shows had been the soundtrack for their growing-up years.

On the hardwarezone forum, one user wrote: "His character in Don't Worry, Be Happy brought a lot of laughter when I was in primary school."

Another user on the same forum wrote: "The Awakening was the first SBC drama I watched. And who can ever forget Ah Shui? He is the first actor whose name I ever remembered and that was when I was in kindergarten."

bchan@sph.com.sg

lting@sph.com.sg

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