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Obituaries

Leslie Cheung, 46; Actor, Pop Singer Takes Suicide Leap

April 03, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

Leslie Cheung, a pop singer and actor who starred in the Oscar-nominated 1993 film "Farewell My Concubine," died Tuesday after leaping from a hotel in Hong Kong. He was 46.

The star plunged from the 24th floor of the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong's central business district, said hotel spokeswoman Sally De Souza.

Police said they found a note on Cheung's body in which he stated he was plagued by emotional problems.

Cheung's roles as openly gay characters set him apart from other Chinese movie stars, and parallels to his tragic part in "Concubine" -- that of a homosexual Chinese opera singer who commits suicide -- were inescapable after 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."

The youngest of 10 children, Cheung was born in 1956 in Hong Kong.

His father was a tailor who made suits for celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Marlon Brando and William Holden.

From the age of 12, Cheung was schooled in England. He eventually studied textile design at Leeds University before returning to Hong Kong.

In the late 1970s, friends entered him in an amateur singing contest in Hong Kong sponsored by a television company. He finished well in the contest, and later signed a contract with the company to sing and act in TV productions.

Cheung rose to superstardom in the 1980s as a singer with a bad-boy image.

Proving himself adaptable, Cheung followed up his musical successes with a distinguished movie career. His acting career took off in 1986, when he starred opposite Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo's gangster movie "A Better Tomorrow."

In later films, he often played 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.

He also appeared in other Wong movies, including "Days of Being Wild" and "Ashes of Time."

Wong's statement mourned the "tremendous loss."

"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 had recently been nominated for best actor in this Sunday's Hong Kong Film Awards, for his role in the horror movie "Inner Senses."

Cheung portrays a man possessed by a dead girlfriend who tries to lure him into jumping to his death, though he is saved by a female lead who urges him to stay alive.

Wreaths from fans lined the entrance to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Wednesday, and the Web site of Cheung's Internet Fan Club proclaimed him a legend forever.

"Leslie, we will always remember you," the Internet site said.

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