Thursday, April 1, 2010
It was such a shock to hear the news, and probably still is for some to remember such a talented person who was having a tortuous battle with severe depression.
A friend of mine sent me Chinese and English newspapers from Hong Kong covering his death, featuring pages and pages of pictures and stories chronicling his life and people trying to process why Cheung wanted to end his life.
Some wondered if it was because maybe he was diagnosed with AIDS, or terminal cancer, but eventually his partner Tong confirmed he had severe depression and had tried to commit suicide a year earlier in 2002.
There was a huge outpouring of grief from Chinese communities around the world and despite the fear of SARS at the time, there was a massive turnout for Cheung's memorial service, showing the strength of his star power.
A profile of him in Wikipedia notes his sad childhood, as his parents constantly fought and eventually divorced.
He also had a miserable time going to school in England, despite his parents' best intentions for him. It was then that he worked as a bartender at a relative's restaurant and began singing there.
When he returned to Hong Kong he began performing and recording, at first not successfully. But after changing record companies and meeting Anita Mui, Cheung's career started to take off.
He will be remembered not only for his beautiful voice, but also his good looks and acting talent.
Farewell My Concubine not only propelled Cheung to success as an actor, but also helped Chinese movies become more mainstream, as it won the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography.
He was also memorable in Wong Kar-wai's 1997 movie, Happy Together. Cheung starred in the movie with Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and they played a gay couple that have a tumultuous relationship as they travel in Argentina.
One will never know or understand what inner demons Cheung was fighting against, but hopefully now he is in peace.
And his legions of fans will never forget him.