(Huang Wen Yong—Mediacorp Artistes)
Death has never been a concept I ever really grasped.
I have known people who have passed. And I have been to a fair few funerals.
But it has never really impacted me very much, probably because I don’t think I ever really understood it very well.
My grandfathers passed away when I was very young, so I don’t remember them at all.
When I was 12 or 13, my friend’s mother passed away. I knew that it was a horribly sad situation, and I did feel very sad for my friend. But I don’t think I really felt the full impact of it.
And then a few years ago, an ex classmate of mine took her own life. I was in shock for almost the whole night. I didn’t understand how you could be here one minute and not the next. I didn’t understand how a person could just disappear completely within that split second. Like you’re just gone. Suddenly.
But the thing about life is that it is so easy to forget. You forget how fragile life is. You forget how quickly you could lose someone, and well, it hurts too much to think about it.
So you forget, and you go on with your own life.
Then once in a while a big celebrity dies and, once again, you feel that twinge in your heart and sinking feeling in your gut. Michael Jackson’s death got me numb and I couldn’t react, so I just pretended nothing had changed. I mean, nothing had changed. I never met him and he had lived a pretty full life – his death shouldn’t affect me. Right?
The day Amy Winehouse died – yes, I am a huge huge fan of Amy Winehouse – I didn’t want to believe it. I think a part of me still doesn’t. The secret neurotic side of me believes that there’s a community of big shot celebrities who had faked their deaths to live quiet lives. Stupid? Maybe. But it makes me feel a lot better.
I couldn’t bear going on Facebook and Twitter and seeing these… numbnuts proclaiming to be Amy’s biggest fans when the only song they knew of hers was Rehab and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. I pretended they didn’t exist, and I pretended Amy was still alive. In fact, I still accidentally add her into my mental list of live concerts to see before I die.
That’s kind of sad :/ But that’s what I do. I lie to myself things to make myself feel better about life. Which is a little bit ironic. Because life is the problem isn’t it? It’s really all we have. And it mocks us with a time limit that is kept hidden from us. We could live until 80, but we could also die tonight. It’s horribly macabre, I know, but it’s the truth.
When it comes to local celebrities, I have to admit that I don’t give much of a crap for them. But even I am not impervious to the notions of death.
When Emma Yong passed, I felt a little bit sad – but more because the local theatre community had lost an extremely talented actress because I didn’t know here personally or had even known much about her personal life. I honestly didn’t know much about her and who she was. But what I did know, was that I had seen her on stage a good few times and she is easily one of my favourite theatre actresses – possibly one of the best in the business. And I lamented the loss of that talent.
But this evening, when the news broke about Huang Wen Yong’s death, something was different – it affected me a lot more than I thought it would.
I grew up watching this man on TV. With the small pool of actors in Singapore, we pretty much reuse our actors for every other TV show, so suffice it to say, I saw this man a lot on TV. Somehow, I connected a whole lot more with his generation of actors than I did with the current generation of actors. They were the pioneers of TV actors in Singapore. They are highly respected by the public, and for good reason.
He, and the rest of his peers, worked tirelessly to produce show after show, setting high standards for the following generations. Wen Yong has acted in comedies such as Don’t Worry, Be Happy (敢敢做个开心人) as well as more serious works like the local classics, The Awakening (霧鎖南洋) and Samsui Women (红头巾), both of which I have regrettably never really seen save for random episode reruns during the off-peak timeslots of weekday afternoons.
But in the shows that I have seen him in, he has always performed wonderfully, with plenty of heart and conviction. He was clearly a seasoned veteran, and I had always admired that they (his generation of actors) had never seemed eager for fame or fortune (you don’t get that in Singapore as a TV actor). They didn’t do crazy things to get attention, and, as far as I know, they lived pretty quiet lives, without attracting too much attention to their personal lives.
They seemed to genuinely love what they did, and they worked hard at it.
And I never thought much about how these group of actors had actually impacted my life.
Their dramas had kept me company through my dinners at 7pm, their sitcoms and comedies entertained me through 8 to 9pm, and their 9pm action-packed dramas had kept me up from my nine thirty bedtime each night. They had saved my mandarin from disappearing into the depths of hell, and shaped my mind in my formative years.
Even if our local entertainment scene is a far cry from that of Hollywood’s, I never thought our actors, especially Wen Yong’s generation of actors, were any less deserving of admiration than any other country’s.
I’m sure he has his fans but I’m not sure if he’s had enough recognition as one of the pioneers of Singapore television. His life ended way too soon, but I sincerely hope his name does not. One of the problems with Singapore is that we often don’t give enough recognition to anyone whose contributions aren’t political. But he is a well-known name, and I really hope that name lives on.
I hope wherever he is, he knows how much he has contributed to Singapore TV – that even an angmoh pai like me could notice and appreciate.
My heart goes out to his family and fans.
RIP Huang Wen Yong. You will – and I mean this – be missed.