Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, a pop singer and actor who played a homosexual Chinese opera singer who commits suicide in the Oscar-nominated “Farewell My Concubine,” died yesterday (April 1) after leaping from a Hong Kong hotel. He was 46.
Cheung’s roles as openly gay characters set him apart from other Chinese film stars, and parallels to his tragic part in “Concubine” were inescapable after he plunged to his death. “Life Imitating Art?” asked a headline in the United Daily News of Taiwan, where Cheung had a loyal following in addition to his many fans in Hong Kong and mainland China.
“Leslie used to jokingly call himself a legend,” said Wong Kar-wai, a Hong Kong director who worked with Cheung on many of his best-known films. “We, too, called him by this name. But no one had ever imagined a legend would be consummated this way.”
Born in Hong Kong in 1956, Cheung rose to superstardom as a singer with a bad-boy image in the 1980s. Proving himself adaptable, Cheung followed up his musical successes with a distinguished film career, often in homosexual roles that are uncommon in Chinese-language movies.
Cheung played a gay man who moved to Argentina with his male lover in “Happy Together,” directed by Wong. Cheung also appeared in other Wong films, including “Days of Being Wild” and “Ashes of Time.”
Wong’s statement mourned the “tremendous loss” of the actor. “Leslie Cheung was a great artist and a true friend,” Wong said. “Through all the days we worked together, we shared great moments and the occasional different point of view. This is because we are all dreamers.”
Cheung was nominated for best actor for Sunday’s Hong Kong Film Awards, for his role in the horror film “Inner Senses.” Cheung played the role of a man possessed by a dead girlfriend who tries to lure him into jumping to his death, though he was saved by a female lead who urged him to stay alive.
Since Cheung died on April 1, many fans thought at first that the broadcast news reports were a bad joke. The star plunged from the gym on the 24th floor of the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong’s Central business district, according to Mandarin spokeswoman Sally De Souza. Police said they found a note on the body saying Cheung was plagued by “emotional problems.”
Wreaths from fans lined the hotel’s entrance on Wednesday and the Web site of Cheung’s Internet Fan Club proclaimed him a “legend forever.”
“Leslie, we will always remember you,” the site said.
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