Continuing with my 'book review' of "Cong Ling Kai Shi (Now and Then)", the next 80s/90s artist I would like to write about is late singer / actor Leslie Cheung.
** Disclaimer #1: The below is a recap of one of the chapters in the book and is written from my perspective – it is not by any means a direct translation of the entire chapter. For a detailed description of what this particular book is about, please refer to post #1.
** Disclaimer #2: This book does NOT tell the entire life story of Leslie, but rather focuses only on certain aspects of his life and career gathered from previous interviews with him (as well as the writer's own knowledge of him). Therefore, please understand that the below recap won't be 'all-inclusive'.
April 1st, 2003 -- a day when we tragically lost one of the HK entertainment industry's biggest stars: singer/actor Leslie Cheung. It was a sad day, one that most Hong Kongers (as well as Leslie’s fans everywhere) will never forget.
Though I don't live in HK, I've been an avid 'follower' of HK entertainment my entire life -- even before I knew how to talk, I was already watching HK TV series, movies, show and listening to HK music (though I didn't really know what was going on at the time) -- so for me, the HK entertainment industry has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in the 80s, so there is definitely a special place in my heart for anything related to that time period -- including the artists who were active in the industry during that time. And of course, Leslie was one of them -- he was one of the biggest names in the HK music world at the time (and was already an established television actor prior to that) so of course everyone knew who he was. Though I can't really call myself a "fan" (in the true sense of the word, since I have a certain 'definition' in my mind of what being a 'fan' is about), I still adored Leslie, just like I adored all the other talented artists from that generation.
I remember vividly where I was and what I was doing the day news came out that Leslie had died. I had just gotten in my car and was driving to work (since I'm in the U.S., it was actually morning for me), listening to the radio (the local Cantonese language station that I normally listen to). As I stopped at a traffic light, my hand reached over to turn up the volume on the radio when an announcement came through (interrupting the program I was listening to): superstar Leslie Cheung had committed suicide, jumping to his death from the 24th floor of a famous HK hotel. The first thought that went through my mind at the time was: Is this some sort of cruel April Fool's joke? Because if it is, then whoever made it up should be sought out and publicly ridiculed for the rest of their life! Apparently, the hosts of the program thought the same thing and were even commenting on how "not funny" that news was and reprimanding the colleague who had given them the information. Not too long after that, as I parked my car in front of our building, the "confirmation" that none of us wanted to hear came through the radio: the report of Leslie's death was true. As some of the details started coming through, I just sat there in a state of shock, with my ears practically glued to the radio....needless to say, it was pretty difficult to concentrate at work, but I made it through and when I got home, the rest of the night was spent watching / reading the news and finding out as much information as I could.
Just like many of Leslie’s fans and other close friends have stated throughout the past 8 years: even now, so many years later, it’s still hard to accept the reality of Leslie truly being gone. Sometimes, when I watch his past performances, I can’t help but feel saddened at what we (the Chinese community as a whole) had lost.
To his many friends, colleagues, and fans, Leslie was known by the nickname ‘Gor Gor’ (elder brother). In terms of the story behind how Leslie got this nickname, there have actually been a few different ‘versions’ over the years, but in my opinion, the 2 ‘versions’ recounted in the book seem to be the most plausible, so those are the 2 that I’ve chosen to go with all these years.
.—Version 1: In 1993, Leslie collaborated with popular Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin (林青霞) in the movie “The Bride with White Hair” (白髮魔女傳) directed by Ronny Yu. It was said that the cast and crew on the set liked to call Brigitte (who was a big star at the time) ‘Jie Jie’ (Big Sister) – therefore, in a joking manner, Leslie would say to her: “If you’re Jie Jie, then that means I’m Gor Gor!” From that moment on, the 2 ‘superstars’ would refer to each other as ‘Jie Jie’ and ‘Gor Gor’ – after awhile, people started getting used to the nickname and soon enough, Leslie started to become ‘Gor Gor’ to everyone else as well.
.—Version 2: In 2008, during the musical tribute concert that was specially organized to commemorate the 5 year anniversary of Leslie’s death, his good friend So Sze Wong (蘇施黃) recounted a completely different story about how Leslie got his nickname. We all know that Leslie loves to play Mahjong whenever he has time and many of his friends in the entertainment industry are his Mahjong ‘buddies’. As the story goes, a bunch of his Mahjong buddies were having a conversation one day and it was mentioned that someone in their group had the nickname ‘Gor Gor’ – actress Carina Lau (one of Leslie’s good friends and Mahjong buddies) mistakenly thought that the ‘Gor Gor’ they were referring to was Leslie. The friends didn’t bother to correct her and let her continue to believe that the ‘Gor Gor’ they were talking about was indeed Leslie (probably as a joke?) – therefore, from that point on, everyone started referring to Leslie as Gor Gor.
Interestingly enough, Leslie is affectionately known as ‘elder brother’ to almost everyone, however in his own family, he was actually the youngest child in the household.
CHILDHOOD / PERSONAL LIFE
Born the youngest of 10 children (3 of his siblings died at birth), Leslie’s original name at birth was Cheung Fat Chung (張發宗 ) – it wasn’t until later that he changed his name to Cheung Kwok Wing. His father (Cheung Wut Hoi) was a well-known tailor whose clients included many Hollywood stars who didn’t mind taking the long trip to HK to have him specially fit their suits for them. Leslie’s parents were very busy people and rarely had time to see their children – therefore, the children were placed under the care of their grandmother and it was only during special occasions (such as Chinese New Year) when the entire family would gather together for dinner. Leslie in particular was actually raised by his nanny, Luk Jie (六姐) and for him, she was one of the most important women in his life (aside from his mother) – Luk Jie loved and cared for Leslie as though he were her own son. It’s no surprise then that when Luk Jie passed away in 1991, Leslie was deeply grieved.
In terms of his relationship with his parents, Leslie once described it this way: “A lot of people ask me – Leslie Cheung, now that you already have everything, there should be no more regrets in life, right? Actually, in my childhood, I did not receive adequate love from my parents – to me, this is a huge regret.”
Even though Leslie’s relationship with his parents was not very close, he still loved his mother dearly. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said about his father – to the Cheung family, the father was viewed as the ‘source’ of much unhappiness for them and in fact, a few of the children were even estranged from him at some point (when Leslie’s eighth brother got married in 1986, he refused to invite his father to the wedding). In 1986, the author (Wong Lai Ling) asked Leslie whether he had a certain fear of marriage due to the way his parents’ marriage turned out, to which Leslie replied: “Yes, perhaps because my parents’ marriage was not happy, it affected me. When my dad was young, he was a ‘player’ who had many women – I actually had 2 mothers and both lived under the same roof at one point. But because there were too many conflicts, the mistress moved out right before I was born – she only has one adopted daughter and I haven’t seen either of them in over 20 years…if I were to bump into them in the street, I would not know who they are.” Leslie continued: “All along, my mom loved my dad very much, so a lot of times, she would just endure the pain he caused without a word. However, several years ago, my dad did something that my mom could not take and finally, they separated. Amongst the seven of us [Leslie & his siblings], only myself as well as another brother are still willing to call him ‘dad’. As far as the issues between my mom and dad, I’ve always tried to maintain a neutral position – after all, no matter what, he is still my dad.”
In his early teens, Leslie went to study in London – he attended a boarding school there and during his days off, he would go live at the home of a long-time family friend (the friend was late actor Alexander Fu Sheng’s sister) and also work part time at her restaurant, which had a band that performed regularly. It was at this restaurant that Leslie ‘performed’ publicly for the first time, singing with the band on the weekends.
After 4 years in England, he returned to Hong Kong, but due to the difference in education levels between the 2 regions, he ended up having to repeat certain courses – plus his exam results were not very good, so he decided to give up on school and try his luck in singing instead. He participated in the HK region pre-qualification round of the ‘Asia Singing Contest’ held by Rediffusion Television (ATV’s predecessor) in 1977 and with his rendition of the song ‘American Pie’, he won second place and was allowed to advance to the final level of the contest, representing HK. Despite his singing skill, Leslie was not able to make it into top 3 in the final contest, but not because he didn’t sing well (one of the judges on the panel of the contest had actually ‘rigged’ the scoring in favor of his own country’s contestants, so none of the contestants from HK made it into any of the top positions). Even though he lost the contest, Leslie’s talent was recognized by RTV and so he signed a 2 year contract with them, thereby officially becoming an RTV artist. That same year (1977), he also signed with his first record company (Polydor) and released his first album, ‘Day Dreaming’. With this, Leslie ‘officially’ began his career in the entertainment industry.
RELATIONSHIPS: THE WOMEN LESLIE ONCE LOVED
It’s no secret that when it came to his sexual orientation, Leslie was bisexual – even though he denied it early on, he did admit this fact later on in his career. Of course, we all know that the ‘significant other’ who accompanied Leslie during most of his life was his same sex partner Daffy Tong (唐鶴德). I’ll talk more about Leslie and Daffy’s relationship later on in this post, since there is a huge section about it in the book and this relationship was definitely an important one in Leslie’s life. However, for now, the focus will be on the women who were once a part of Leslie’s life: the girlfriends that he had after he entered the entertainment industry starting in the late 70s (and prior to meeting Daffy).
Teresa Mo: his first girlfriend
In 1977, while filming the series “Love Story” for RTV, rumors surfaced that 20 year old Leslie had fallen in love with his 17 year old co-star, Teresa Mo (毛舜筠). When asked about this, Leslie graciously admitted the relationship to reporters: “Yes! At first, it was only a promotional tactic for the series – when filming the promotional clip, we were asked to hold each other’s hand, so I jokingly told Teresa: ‘I’ll be your boyfriend, ok?’, to which she replied ‘Ok!’. After we finished filming the series, I felt that she was a very good girl, very cute, and we got along well, so I invited her to watch a movie together and hang out. Even though neither of us have ever expressed that we are really really in love with each other, I truly do like her a lot and I believe that she feels the same way about me. But, she has a lot of boyfriends. She and I are different in that regard – I am very dedicated and once I like a girl, I will continue to be good to her only.” Leslie also emphasized: “We are very serious about our relationship.”
Teresa was Leslie’s first girlfriend after he entered the entertainment industry (though she was not the first woman in his life – his ‘first love’ occurred when he was studying in England, but he was only with the girl for 2 weeks and they broke up). Even though he may not have realized it at first, Leslie was definitely smitten with Teresa the first time he saw her, to the point that he wanted to marry her not too long into their romance: “Towards her [Teresa], you can say that it was love at first sight. Not too long after we met, I was already in front of her with flowers, asking her to marry me.” Unfortunately, Leslie’s good intention backfired, as his sudden proposal actually scared Teresa, causing her to drift away from him. Of course, it’s understandable why Teresa would reject Leslie’s marriage proposal, as she was only 17 at the time, not even at legal age – plus Leslie was very young as well, so it probably wasn’t a good idea to get married at such a young age. Even though the romance between Leslie and Teresa did not last, the 2 still remained good friends even after they broke up (in fact, Leslie is good friends with Teresa’s current husband Tony Au Ding Ping).
Years later, during a TV program that she hosted for i-Cable, Teresa invited her good friend Leslie for a one-on-one interview, during which both very openly discussed their previous relationship. During that interview, Leslie told Teresa: “If back then you had agreed to marry me, it very possibly would have changed my life forever.”
Shirley Yim: a short-lived romance
In 1979, Leslie met a young woman while dancing at a local disco – her name was Shirley Yim (雪梨), the younger sister of actress Michelle Yim (米雪). Shirley was also an actress herself, just getting her start in the TV industry around that time. A year after that first meeting, Leslie and Shirley bumped into each other again during a charity sport event and that same evening, Leslie gave her a ride home. Not long after that, rumors started to surface that the two were dating. The next time the author met up with Leslie, she asked him about his relationship with Shirley and he graciously admitted it: “She can’t be counted as tremendously pretty, but she is very refined and a very interesting person. She told me that people usually call her by her nickname ‘baby elephant’.”
Again, this relationship was short-lived, as Leslie and Shirley were still young at the time and to a certain extent, were not entirely compatible. The couple tried hard to adapt to each other’s interests – Shirley liked to dance, so Leslie would accompany her to discos and Leslie liked for women to wear dresses, so Shirley would wear them occasionally to please him (even though she hated wearing dresses). However, having to constantly accommodate each other eventually took a toll on the relationship and it pretty much ended not too long after it started.
Ngai Si Pei: sweet young love
In 1981, while filming the RTV series “Agency 24”, Leslie again fell in love with his co-star, but this time it was actress Ngai Si Pei (倪詩蓓). A year later, when Ngai Si Pei was involved in a bitter contract dispute with RTV, Leslie immediately came to her defense and it was around that time that their relationship was made public. Their relationship lasted only two years.
Many years later, when asked about her relationship with her former lover, Ngai Si Pei praised Leslie for being a very romantic, good man: “When we were dating, neither of us had drivers licenses. Every time we went on a date, he would come pick me up and show up at the doorstep with a bouquet of yellow roses because he knew I liked that type of flower. We dated for close to 2 years – later on, I went to England to study fashion design and our relationship eventually dissolved.”
I personally don’t know too much about Ngai Si Pei, and unfortunately, there is very little information out there about her nowadays. In my research, I discovered that in addition to being one of Leslie’s former girlfriends, she was also linked to actor Kent Tong at one point (though it’s my understanding that they didn’t have a very good relationship at all). She married Asia’s ‘Cartoon King’ Wang Yuk Long in the late 1990s and they divorced 6 years later.
Cindy Yeung: from lovers to friends
In 1985, the author asked Leslie about his current love life and he revealed to her that his new girlfriend is someone he has known for 7 years already, but was never romantically involved with until now. The ‘girlfriend’ he was referring to was Cindy Yeung (楊諾思), the eldest daughter of Emperor Entertainment Group’s chairman Albert Yeung. In 1984, Leslie went to Albert Yeung’s house often, as he was a friend of the family’s and that year, he had to borrow the family’s swimming pool to film the cover of his latest album. With more opportunity to meet up and get to know each other better, Leslie and Cindy eventually started dating – however, they parted ways amicably a year later, though they still continued to remain good friends.
Currently, Cindy is a successful businesswoman overseeing part of her father’s business empire (she is in charge of Emperor Watch and Jewelry Company).
CAREER: THE LONG AND DIFFICULT ROAD TO FAME
Even with his natural talent and hard work, Leslie’s path to success in the entertainment industry was not an easy one at all. Despite a steady acting career in television, Leslie did not do too well on the music front early on in his career – not only were his first 2 albums (‘Day Dreaming’ from 1977 and ‘Lover’s Arrow’ from 1979) poorly received by the general public, he also did not have much luck with his performances or position in the music industry either. He once told the author: “I admit that at one point, I felt discouraged and disappointed – I would ask myself why I always ended up in a ‘secondary’ position? But I continued to bear with it and persevere. I remember one performance in particular where, in the hopes of accommodating the atmosphere at the time, I tossed the hat that I was wearing out into the audience – to my surprise, the hat was immediately tossed back up to me. I was very hurt and embarrassed by this and at the time, I just wanted to dig a hole in the ground and bury myself in it.”
Fortunately for Leslie, he had a chance meeting with Florence Chan (陳淑芬) in 1982; working for record company Capital Artists at the time, Mrs. Chan (as she is known in the industry) knew that Leslie had just ended his contract with Polygram and so she invited him to join Capital Artists as a singer. This proved to be the beginning of a ‘golden’ partnership, as it was after Leslie signed with Capital Artists and Mrs. Chan became his manager that he started to achieve fame and success as a singer. Their first collaboration in 1983, when Leslie released the song 風繼續吹 (‘The Wind Blows On’) was an instant hit and the next year (1984), Leslie’s singing career reached new heights with his first award-winning hit ‘Monica’. In 1985, with the release of his album 為你鍾情 (‘For Your Love Only’), he set records when the album achieved ‘double platinum’ status not long after it was released. [Note that currently, an album achieves Platinum status when it sells more than 1 million units – back in the 80s, I believe that number was higher, so for an album to achieve ‘double platinum’ in such a short amount of time is definitely a huge achievement!] That same year (1985), Leslie held his very first concert at HK Coliseum.
Another important person in Leslie’s career was music composer / producer Michael Lai (黎小田). Michael was actually one of the judges of the ‘Asia Singing Contest’ (the HK pre-qualification round) back when Leslie participated in the contest (Michael was RTV’s music director at the time). Michael remembered Leslie so vividly at the time because Leslie was the only contestant who actually dared to argue with him; Michael admired Leslie’s personality and respected his persistence – from that moment forward, they developed a close friendship (Michael became Leslie’s ‘god-father’) and they subsequently collaborated frequently on albums and concert performances.
To conclude this section about Leslie’s music career and his relationship with Florence Chan, I felt the need to include the subsequent paragraph recounting the final moments of Leslie’s life – after reading this section, I have to say that I admire Mrs. Chan’s strength in overcoming the tragedy of Leslie’s death:
Indeed, it can be said that Florence Chan was truly the one responsible for Leslie becoming the ‘superstar’ that he is. From 1982 on, Mrs. Chan became Leslie’s manager as well as close friend and confidante – for the next 2 decades, Mrs. Chan would become one of the most important women in Leslie’s life – their relationship was akin to that of mother and son. With the closeness of Leslie and Mrs. Chan’s relationship, I’m sure we can understand how painful it must have been for her to ‘witness’ Leslie’s death on that fateful day. As most of us know, Mrs. Chan was the last person to speak with Leslie on the phone prior to his death – she was scheduled to meet up with Leslie for tea that evening and had actually arrived at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel a few minutes before their scheduled time of 6pm. When Mrs. Chan checked the usual places at the hotel where Leslie usually frequented, she was not able to find him, so she called him to find out where he was. Leslie told her that he had stepped out for a bit and would be back shortly, so Mrs. Chan decided to wait for him (in reality, Leslie had not stepped out – he was actually on the 24th floor, writing a note and making a few phone calls). A few minutes before 6:41pm HKT (the moment Leslie jumped from the hotel), Leslie calls Mrs. Chan and tells her to wait for him near the entrance of the hotel – she immediately heads toward the specificed location and waits there for Leslie. Five minutes later, she hears a huge ‘thud’ sound and sees a crowd forming a few feet away from her – from where she was standing, she could vaguely make out the outline of a human body near where the crowd was -- she thought that perhaps there was an accident of some sort, but she did not dare move from the area she was standing to go look because she was afraid Leslie wouldn’t be able to find her once he arrived…..little did she know that her waiting would be in vain. Tragically, by the time she realized what had happened, Leslie was already gone.
ANITA MUI: LESLIE’S BELOVED ‘LITTLE SISTER’
Of course, it is impossible to write about Leslie without mentioning his long-time friend and ‘sister’ Anita Mui (梅艷芳). Leslie and Anita had a very special relationship, one that was rare and probably will never occur again in the HK entertainment industry. Leslie met Anita for the first time in 1982, when he signed with Capital Artists; that was also the same year that Anita won the New Talent Singing Contest and had also signed to the same record company – so it can be said that the two of them started on their path to fame together.
Prior to her death, Anita had described her relationship with Leslie this way: “A lot of people think that I’m a very ‘tough’ person -- it is only in front of Gor Gor [Leslie] that I can completely become myself once again. I can be a ‘woman’ again and no longer need to pretend to be strong, because I have him here to protect me – he is an elder brother who truly truly loves me and dotes on me very much.” She continues: “[Gor Gor] and I are great partners and confidantes. We started out together, working from scratch at Capital Artists. All I know is that when I have him around, I feel most at ease, and by the same token, when he has me around, he is also most at ease.”
In 1985, when Leslie held his first HK Coliseum concert, his special musical guest was none other than his ‘little sister’ Anita. It was actually Leslie’s idea to invite Anita as musical guest (not the company’s idea, as some people might think)…at the time, Leslie himself stated: “[Anita] and I are good friends and in the near future, she will be holding her own concerts, so I felt that she should have the opportunity to ‘test the waters’ and see how the audience reacts – for a singer, this is very important. During the show, when I heard the applause and cheers that the audiences gave to Anita, I thought in my heart: ‘Anita, you’ve succeeded!’” Thinking back to those early days in both their careers, Leslie and Anita constantly talked about how the two of them would travel all over the world together, performing at various venues and going through ‘thick and thin’ together – no matter how tiring or difficult things became, they had the assurance of knowing that they were in it together. Even during their travels, when they would stay at hotels, they would make sure to book rooms that had a common door so that in the event anything happened, they could be there for each other.
Having endured hardship and success together, it’s no surprise that Leslie and Anita developed such a strong bond. They were truly a ‘perfect match’ and ‘dream team’ in every aspect (except romantically), even though their personalities and hobbies were complete opposites. Anita was the bold, adventurous type who enjoyed high risk activities such as roller coasters and thrill rides, whereas Leslie could barely stand to go near those types of things because he had an incredible fear of heights (ironically, he chose to end his life by jumping off a building). Nevertheless, their different personalities did not prevent them from enjoying each other’s company and developing a ‘non-romance’ closeness that was practically unheard of (especially between a man and a woman) at the time. In describing how much Leslie meant to her, Anita stated that he knew her better than her own family – in fact, every time she met a new boyfriend, she would make sure to take him to meet her protective ‘big brother’ Leslie so he could give his blessing.
When Leslie passed away, Anita not only cried endless tears for him, she also was so upset that she was not able to eat for the longest time: “The first few days after his passing, my heart hurt so badly, I was barely able to speak – I felt that all of a sudden, I had aged 10 years. I would ask the Heavens non-stop: ‘Why did it have to be like this?’” During the last few months of Anita’s life, when she herself was courageously battling cancer, she met with the author one last time – during that interview, she stated: “[Leslie] is forever my elder brother! Our relationship is as close as……” she was not able to find an appropriate word to describe the relationship… “In any case, it’s not something that can be expressed in a few words; he is forever branded in my heart.”
On December 30th, 2003 – 8 months after her beloved Gor Gor passed away – Anita was finally reunited with him in Heaven.
RETIREMENT AND COMEBACK
It was in 1987, while at the height of his career, that Leslie told his friends for the first time that he wanted to retire from singing (though it was something that he had thought about numerous times in the past). At the time, most of Leslie’s friends didn’t believe that he was serious about retiring, but it turns out that his mind was already set: on December 21, 1988, Leslie kicked off his Farewell Concert Tour – his way of saying goodbye to his fans – and during the very last show held on January 22, 1990, he performed a special ‘hanging up the microphone’ ceremony to show that from then on, he would leave his singing career behind him.
After he left the music industry (as a singer that is), Leslie invested a lot more time into his movie career, as he wanted to focus on acting and also try his hand at directing some day. It definitely seemed that he had made the right decision to retire at that time, as his movie career started to soar (well, technically he was already a well-known movie actor by that time anyway, but it was in the early 90s that he truly achieved ultimate success in acting in terms of awards and international recognition).
I’m actually not going to go too much into Leslie’s movie career, as this is one area that most people are already familiar with. Instead, I am going to skip to the year 1995, when Leslie made his official comeback to the music industry. (The reason why I decided to focus on this aspect is because I feel it’s more important to understand Leslie’s inner thought process with regard to his retirement and comeback rather than recount which films he had starred in.) Just like starting off in the industry was not easy for him, returning was even more difficult – primarily because of all the ‘pressure’ that he had to deal with from the Media. During the contract-signing event marking his ‘official’ return in 1995, Leslie was surrounded by reporters who started firing questions at him left and right, asking him if he felt that he was ‘going back on his word’ by making a comeback…. Leslie patiently responded to the reporters’ questions: “My thought process has definitely changed. Back then, I was insistent on retiring, but I have matured now, so my thinking is no longer the same. After filming movies for so many years, I would be lying if I told you that I had not thought about singing again. You can say that I am going back on my word – regardless, my thought process has changed.” Indeed, Leslie’s decision to come out of retirement was not a brash one, as he had already considered it for 2 years before actually proceeding. During his return concert in 1997, Leslie told his fans: “Leaving the stage for 7 years, I have never regretted it – at the time, I had left wholeheartedly…having another concert now is a good thing, as I feel that my foundation is deeper – hopefully I can reach another peak in my career. If everyone where to ask me how long I hope to continue singing, I would respond: Forever….” (Though the Media did not seem to share in his ‘happiness’ of returning to singing, at least his fans did!)
One thing I don’t understand is -- with Leslie’s popularity and talent, shouldn’t people be happy that he decided to come out of retirement and release albums again? Since when is coming out of retirement and returning to the music industry a bad thing? Personally, it’s hard for me to understand the Media’s (and general public to some extent) method of thinking in this regard…why should it matter whether Leslie coming out of retirement meant that he ‘went back on his word’? I find it sad that the Media would choose to focus on the ‘negative’ aspect of his decision rather than the more important piece of how much joy his return brought to fans. Once again, this is another example of what is wrong with HK Media (a point that I had talked about earlier in the post about Danny Chan). It’s no surprise then that Leslie felt so disappointed in the Media at the time.
Unfortunately though, this would not be the last time that Leslie would be ‘hurt’ by the Media (in fact, this was only the beginning). In 2000, Leslie held what would eventually be the very last concert of his career and life (due to his passing 3 years later). His ‘Passion Tour’ concert series had special meaning for Leslie, as it marked the first time that he would serve as art director as well as singer for a concert -- to demonstrate how important the concert was to him, he specially invited renowned designer Jean Paul Gaultier to design all the costumes for the concert. One of Leslie’s goals for this concert was to express himself artistically (hence the long haired wig and the beard) – to some extent, he was able to achieve this goal, as many of his colleagues and industry people who saw the concert praised his efforts and told him that his concert was “true art”. After the opening show, when he happily met with reporters, all of them praised him in unison as well, telling him how great the show was – this gave Leslie confidence and truly made him believe the show was near perfection artistically….never in a million years could he have imagined that the reporters that night were merely giving him ‘lip service’: when the Media reports came out the next day, the ‘praise’ turned into severe criticism – a completely opposite reaction from what the reporters told him to his face the night before. Towards this, he was extremely disappointed and heartbroken. Even though the ‘Passion Tour’ eventually became a huge success on the international front and Leslie won many awards because of it, the HK Media’s harsh criticism had already done its damage…..
In November 2000, during his acceptance speech for the “Grand Salute Award” bestowed on him by Mingpao Weekly (for his work on the Passion Tour concerts), Leslie finally spoke the words that had been in his heart for several months [my apologies for the long excerpt, but this speech is a very important one and in order to do it justice, I felt the need to include the entire quote that was in the book]: “After the opening night performance, there were a lot of reporters who came backstage – the reaction I had gotten from them at that time was: ‘the show was absolutely awesome!’ However, the next day, when I opened the newspaper, what I saw was: ‘the long hair means that he is Zhen Zi [TN: a female ghost from a horror flick] and wearing a skirt means that he is a woman’, as well as other criticisms -- all of this only shows how superficial the Media is….sometimes, I feel that entertainers at our level should try things that no one else has done before and help set precedence; to be honest, during my 1997 concert, when I wore high heels onstage, I could understand being called a woman, but during this concert [Passion Tour], I never once thought of myself as a woman! Perhaps they [the Media] did not pay close enough attention – the ‘woman’ that they talked about in their reports actually has a mustache!”
Leslie continues: “On the 3rd day of the concert, Jean-Paul Gaultier [the renown designer who was responsible for Leslie’s wardrobe for the concert] emailed me from France – after I read the email, I almost fell to the floor. He wrote: ‘You Hong Kong people are ridiculous! In the future, NO international level designer will ever collaborate or work on HK shows again.’ I feel that this is something the HK Media needs to self-reflect upon because there are many of us entertainers whose level has already reached international standards. I recently held 10 shows in Japan and afterwards, the Japanese Media used the word ‘FANTASTIC!’ to describe the shows – at the same time, I was asked by other international Media outlets and concert organizers: ‘why is it that the Media in Hong Kong would choose to destroy and hurt its entertainers [with its reporting]?’”
Leslie’s words at that time were truly a reflection of what was in his own heart, but I’m sure that he also expressed the sentiments of all HK entertainers as well. He was very blunt in his criticism of the HK Media and I admire as well as respect him for that. Leslie’s personality has always been very straightforward and genuine -- it’s part of what endears him to so many people. Towards his personality, Leslie had this to say: “All these years, whether I encounter success or failure, I’ve always spoken what is in my heart. Unfortunately, this type of personality has brought me much pain and suffering.”
DAFFY TONG: LESLIE’S PARTNER UNTIL THE END
In January 1997, at the end of the 24th show of his post-retirement concert, Leslie publicly thanked 2 of the ‘most beloved’ people in his life. The first person was his mother Mrs. Cheung and the second one was his long-time partner, Daffy Tong: “Over 10 years ago, when I was at the lowest point in my life and had problems financially, this particular friend took several months worth of his salary and lent it entirely to me, helping me get through my crisis. Actually, I don’t have to say it, as you guys probably already know. Mom, he is your god-son, Mr. Tong.” Then, in 1999, during an interview with a radio show, Leslie once again spoke of the 2 most important people in his life – with this revelation, speculations over Leslie’s sexual orientation that had been running rampant for many years -- finally ended.
On April 1, 2003, Leslie’s sudden death not only shocked the entire entertainment industry, but also the entire Asian community worldwide. Unfortunately, within just hours after his death, the rumor mill was ‘ignited’ again: all kinds of speculations and rumors concerning Leslie’s death spread like wildfire, with the most ‘hurtful’ rumors coming from local gossip magazines and tabloids, which focused on Leslie’s sexual orientation and possible relationship issues as ‘reasons’ for his suicide. Due to the intensity of the rumors and the strong desire to allow Leslie to rest in peace, his family – including his partner Daffy – had to take a moment out of their immense grieving to refute some of the rumors that surfaced (shame on the Media for inflicting so much pain on a grieving family!!).
The below passages translated directly from the book demonstrate the frustration and anguish that Daffy especially had to go through :
With Leslie’s sudden death, Daffy was more hurt and grieved than anyone – yet in order to dispel rumors that were already surfacing, he agreed to be interviewed by reporters through the screen door of his home the morning of April 2nd (just hours after Leslie’s death). Daffy was wearing a white bathrobe, his eyes were red and swollen, his face was tired and worn. He told reporters: “Our relationship of more than a decade has always been good – there was never a ‘third party’ in our relationship and my feelings for him have never changed; all these years, my love for him has never wavered.” He also revealed that the first time Leslie had attempted to end his own life was back in November of last year (2002) – he said that Gor Gor suffered from depression and had been seeing various doctors for awhile already.
Unfortunately, Daffy’s confirmation of Leslie’s illness did not do much to dispel the ruthless rumors and speculations that continued to run rampant in the Media. In an attempt to quell the rumor mill, Leslie’s close confidante and manager Florence Chan stepped forward in Daffy’s (and Leslie’s) defense: “Leslie and Daffy met back in 1982 and since then, have been through thick and then together – their relationship all these years has always been good. In the past year that Leslie has been ill, Daffy has stood by him unwaveringly, taking care of him without complaint, their relationship stronger than ever. Leslie is already gone and Daffy is already in tremendous pain – what’s the point of inflicting even more pain on him? Leslie has always been very loyal in his relationships – in the past 20 years, his feelings for Daffy have never changed.”
In an interview with the author several days later, Daffy once again reiterated the unchanging devotion that he and Leslie had for each other – and he once again implored that the Media allow Leslie to rest in peace: “….In the past, whenever there were rumors about us, both Leslie and I would choose to remain silent and instead dispel those rumors through our actions – for example, going out together publicly to watch a movie or have dinner….but now, this is no longer possible…Leslie is already gone, there is no way for him to defend himself or refute the rumors, yet some people still choose to use written or verbal words to attack his spirit! The dead is already gone, let the rumors be buried as well! Instead [of focusing on the rumors], I hope that everyone can appreciate Gor Gor’s contributions and his great love and passion for his work….let’s allow Leslie to truly leave in peace!”
Sadly, to this day, there are still many rumors and speculations surrounding Leslie’s death, though the intensity of those speculations has (fortunately) died down. Despite Leslie’s own confession in his suicide note that he was suffering from depression as well as confirmation of this from his closest friends and relatives (it was also mentioned at his funeral), some people (perhaps out of ignorance or lack of understanding of the disease?) still refuse to accept the fact that it was this illness that drove Leslie to take his own life and instead continue to conjure up various other ‘reasons’ to explain it– as an HK entertainment fan, it’s definitely upsetting and at the same time frustrating to see this type of thinking. Hopefully, this post will help those who are still of this particular mindset gain better clarification.
OTHER INTERESTING FACTS
The book actually clarified a few things regarding Leslie that devoted fans may already know, but most of the general public might not -- therefore, I felt it was appropriate to include a few of these ‘interesting facts’ in this particular post:
.-- At one point in time, it was thought that actor/singer Dicky Cheung (張衛健)was Leslie's cousin. This is actually not true -- even though both Dicky and Leslie have the same surname, they are not related to each other at all. Below is a direct quote from Leslie on how the whole thing about Dicky being his cousin came about:
He [Leslie] has a heart of gold – in order to help others, he does mind telling a well-intentioned ‘untruth’. In 1984, Leslie was already a well-known first-line singer – in that year’s New Talent Singing Competition, there was a kid named Dicky Cheung who was rumored to be a cousin of his. It wasn’t until after Dicky won the gold award that Leslie refuted the rumors of Dicky being a relative: “Dicky and I met a year ago. Not sure how he got my phone number, but he called me and we agreed to meet up. At the time, he was singing at restaurants in order to support his entire family. For a period of time, he didn’t have any work opportunities while I would do occasional restaurant gigs myself, so I figured I would help introduce him to the restaurant people I knew. At first, I introduced him as my friend, but that didn’t seem to help, as he still didn’t get many opportunities, so I figured why don’t I just claim him as my cousin – after that, I was able to help him find quite a few jobs.”
Leslie later clarified in an interview that Dicky wasn’t his cousin – but he chose to do it way after Dicky won the NTSA competition, as he didn’t want to affect Dicky’s chances and also didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
.-- Alot of people say that Roger Kwok (郭晉安) – in his younger days especially -- bore a striking resemblance to Leslie and some even mistakenly thought that perhaps they are related. The truth is that they are NOT related, but Roger definitely did look a little like Leslie back in the 80s, especially between 1986 and 1988. Roger's fellow colleagues at TVB apparently thought so as well: during TVB's Anniversary Gala in 1988, Leslie was one of the special musical performers at the end of the show -- while he was performing, a bunch of people pushed Roger out to the front of the stage where Leslie was. Roger had a (cute) slightly embarrassed smile on his face -- being the good sport that he is, Leslie hugged Roger and said loudly into the microphone: "My Brother!" (Aww, such a sweet moment! I remember that particular Anniversary Gala show, as I've seen it several times -- it's among my favorites in terms of TVB galas).
.-- Leslie is very good friends with [my idol] Jacky Cheung. Part of the reason is because of Anita, since Jacky is Anita's 'brother-in-law' and of course, Anita is Leslie's close friend and 'sister' -- plus they all started around the same time (in the 80s) and all had mutual friends, so they hung out together alot and also collaborated alot onscreen (in music and movies) as well. But of course, the other 'common link' between Leslie and Jacky is Florence Chan -- as already stated above, Mrs. Chan was Leslie's manager for most of his singing career (starting in the early 80s) and in the mid-90s, she became Jacky's concert manager (Jacky's manager in the 80s and early 90s was 'golden' manager Willie Chan), a position she continues to hold currently. (When Leslie made his comeback to the music industry, Mrs. Chan continued her role as his manager, up until the point of his death in 2003). So with the added relationship of being Mrs. Chan's 'sons', it's no surprise that Jacky and Leslie were close.
In 2001, during a celebration dinner for Mrs. Chan’s birthday, Leslie talked with Jacky about the 2 of them doing a musical together as their mutual gift to Mrs. Chan for her birthday. By the next year, Jacky had already completed the initial script for the musical and had even showed it to Leslie for review. Unfortunately, before Jacky was able to complete the final revisions to the script, Leslie was already gone. …
I’m sure everyone would agree that even when he was alive, Leslie was already an ICON in every sense of the word – with his passing, he has become more than just an icon….he has become a LEGEND.
In a sense, this post can be viewed as a ‘coping mechanism’ to help those (like me) who still struggle from time to time in accepting the fact that Leslie is truly gone…. but most importantly though – just like with my previous posts on Anita and Danny -- it’s also my way of paying tribute to a legend. I hope that whoever gets the chance to read this post – whether you’re a Leslie fan or not – can benefit from it in some way: whether it’s learning things about Leslie that you may not have known previously, or, in the case of his fans, simply serving as a reminder of why your love for Leslie continues to remain strong and steadfast so many years after his death. In putting together this post, I myself have definitely gained a better appreciation for Leslie, both as an artist and as a person.
One last thing…..
I wish I could include some of the pictures from the book in these posts, as each chapter shows a collection of pictures from Mingpao’s archives that are relevant to the people or events being discussed. One of the many things I like about this book is that the author really took the time to look through her picture archives and choose pictures that created a ‘historical chronology’ of sorts for each artist (for example, the section talking about the artist’s childhood included baby pictures and other family pictures, the section about the artist’s relationships has pictures of their significant other(s), all with detailed captions and the year the picture was taken). For me, while reading this book, looking through all the pictures and reading the captions that accompanied each picture was almost as good as reading the book itself!