Anita Mui’s last wish: don’t cry for me, let me go in peace — from the SCMP archive

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Hong Kong’s entertainment industry was in mourning as news of Mui’s death spread.

“A superstar in show business, a friend who treats us with real love wholeheartedly, Miss Mui Yim-fong has passed away at 2.50am. She died of dysfunction of the lungs caused by cervical cancer,” announced fashion designer and long-time friend Eddie Lau Pui-kei at Happy Valley’s Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital. She was 40 years old.


‘Daughter of Hong Kong’: the life and times of Cantopop icon Anita Mui

‘Daughter of Hong Kong’: the life and times of Cantopop icon Anita Mui

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa last night paid tribute to the singer and actress who dominated the entertainment scene for more than two decades.

“Ms Mui’s achievements and community services signified the best of Hong Kong’s spirit,” a spokesman said. “Her success did not come easy. She started her stellar career on her own and achieved much with her own efforts. This was typical of how many Hong Kong people achieved successes.”

Funeral services will start on January 11 at the Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point, which will be open to the public from 4pm. A private service will be held at 11am the following day for relatives and friends. Her body will then be taken to Cape Collinson for cremation.

Mui’s death followed those of Cantopop legend Roman Tam Pak-sin in October last year, her closest celebrity friend, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, in April, and veteran lyricist Lam Chun-keung – who penned many of her hits – last month.

Friends spoke of the end of an era. “Her death is a great loss to Hong Kong,” Chan said. “Ah Mui doesn’t only belong to show business, she belongs to Hong Kong. She liked being with friends, so she insisted to see all of us before she left. This year is a very sad year for our industry.

Anita Mui performing at one of her last concerts in Hong Kong on November 6, 2003. Photo: Reuters

“It was Anita Mui’s last wish. She did not want her friends to cry and be in despair, and she did not want people to yell out her name.”

Mui first disclosed she had cervical cancer in September after being stalked by paparazzi for days. She said at the time that a benign tumour was discovered more than a year ago, but a recent checkup revealed it had turned malignant.

She had insisted her sickness was not terminal.

Movie star and friend Eric Tsang Chi-wai said on December 30: “Her condition kept getting worse, but she still insisted on waiting for all her beloved friends and got the last glimpse of all of us and gave us all her blessing before she left us.”

The ‘Madonna of Asia’ who never stopped fighting

Entertainment reporter Winnie Chung remembers a brave performer who was quick to help her friends, but who carried a deep pain she hid from the world

On November 15, 10,000 people watched with me as Anita Mui Yim-fong pulled off what must be her greatest personal triumph – fighting her way past fatigue, cancer and medication to end her concert series on a triumphant note.

At the end of the concert, as she walked through the church doors on stage in a wedding gown, with some of her good friends behind her, there was a finality about the scene. I knew then that, after many false alarms, it would be probably be the last time that Mui would hold a solo concert.

What I hadn’t expected, however, was that it would be the last time I would see the consummate performer in the flesh. Yes, we all knew she had cancer of the cervix after her much publicised announcement on September 20.

“I may be a patient, but I am not a weak person. Watch me beat this,” she told Hong Kong – and we believed her.

Anita Mui, Andy Lau and movie star Michelle Yeoh during a news conference in Hong Kong in September 2003. Photo: Reuters

We wanted to believe her – fate could not be so unkind as to rob Hong Kong of three of its best entertainers in just 15 months: first Roman Tam Pak-sin from liver cancer in October last year, then Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing in a suicide in April. Both had been good friends of Mui.

When a local fortune-teller announced after Cheung’s death that a female superstar with the Chinese character “wood” in her name would die before the end of the year, all fingers pointed at Mui.

Her friends then went on suicide watch as they watched Mui’s grief for Cheung overtake her.

But true to form, Mui rebounded with strength and resolve. “Don’t worry, I will live my life well,” she said, before ploughing herself into organising one of the most star-studded concerts ever held in Hong Kong, in aid of the victims of Sars.

Mui was a fighter; she had not had much of a choice. Born into a poor family of two boys and two girls, Mui and her sister Ann Mui Oi-fong – who died of cancer in 2000 – had started singing at amusement parks from the age of four to put rice on the table. Mui’s father had died early, leaving her mother and the two girls to fend for the family.

After leaving school in Form One, Mui continued singing in nightclubs to support her family.

In 1982, she took the fateful step of signing up for the first TVB New Talent Singing Contest. Her Farrah Fawcett hairdo and gaudy gold gown failed to overshadow Mui’s mellow, powerful voice. Her rendition of Paula Tsui’s Season of the Wind won her the champion’s trophy.

Exhibition marking 20th anniversary of Hong Kong diva Anita Mui’s death opens

Mui’s career reached heights that no other Hong Kong female singer has come even close to mirroring.

In her 20-year career, Mui sold more than 10 million albums and staged more than 300 concerts. In 1990, she broke Asian records for a 30-night concert run at the Hong Kong Coliseum.

She has won more than 80 music awards and gave Hong Kong such memorable hits as Breaking Through Ice Mountain, Bad Girl, Time Flows Like Water and Manju Shaka.

Not your classic Chinese beauty, Mui made up for it by outrageousness and daring; going through image changes like Imelda Marcos went through shoes. She earned the moniker “The Chameleon” and “Anita of 100 Faces”.

Mui and good friend Leslie Cheung reigned as the Queen and King of Cantopop. Both were consummate entertainers who put the “live” into live performances. When Mui announced her “retirement” from live shows and awards in 1991, everyone lamented her departure.

However, the lure of the stage proved too much for Mui. Four years later, she was back on stage albeit at longer intervals than before.

Mui proved she was not just a force to be reckoned with on the musical arena. She has appeared in more than 40 films in her career, and was named best supporting actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1985.

Two years later, she won best actress at the Golden Horse Film Awards for her role as the lovelorn ghost in search of her lover (Leslie Cheung) in Stanley Kwan Kam-pang’s Rouge.

A ‘sad and beautiful story’: remembering superstar Anita Mui on her birthday

Yet, despite all her successes, Mui always carried a tragic, unhappy air about her. At parties with showbiz friends, she alternated between sitting morosely by herself and going overboard with drinking and partying.

I remember sitting near her at a party in a Las Vegas hotel penthouse one Christmas Eve. Everyone else had been playing silly party games but Mui had sat there gloomy and brooding all night.

Maybe it was because Air France had lost her luggage en route from Morocco and together with it, her much-needed sleeping pills, but that air of sadness – even when masked by bravado and bolstered by a few drinks – was always there whenever else I saw her.

Bravado was certainly something that Mui had in spades. It was probably what got her into her first reported life-and-death scrape in 1992 when an altercation with a triad boss in a Kowloon Tong karaoke bar escalated into a gang killing and Mui subsequently had to skip town after receiving death threats.

Mui’s generosity to her friends and family was also well known. Good friend Eric Tsang Chi-wai once commented: “When you go out with Anita, you don’t have to bring any cash. She pays for everything!”

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