Over the course of 32 years and more than 100 dramas, Big Brother Wenyong wasn’t just Singapore’s first male TV star, he was our nightly dinner companion. He became our first childhood hero when we watched him play the brave platoon commander who gave his life to save his blur recruit from a grenade in the seminal 1983 drama, Army Series. It was an image we held close to our hearts (and sweaty palms) during grenade practice in NS. But it was The Awakening — Singapore’s first blockbuster hit serial — that established Huang Wenyong as our first leading man, the prototype hero, if you will. As Ah Shui, the hardworking immigrant coolie in The Awakening, he helped build our nation, and even made us idly wonder why he and Xiang Yun’s Ah Mei weren’t featured in our Social Studies textbooks.
When we were hit by the Asian financial crisis in the ’90s, he was the penny-pinching, bargain-hunting cab driver Ong Kim Lai in Don’t Worry Be Happy, a funhouse mirror image of every kiasu, kiasi Singaporean trying to make ends meet. Most recently, as a bellyaching ex-table tennis coach in Love Thy Neighbour, he became the voice of a nation concerned about the influx of foreign talent. Hmm, what would Ah Shui say about that?
It’s safe to say that Wenyong, who passed away on April 20 at age 60 from lymphoma cancer, was as much a part of us as we were part of him. It’s why his death — so sudden, so shocking — leaves a gaping hole in the hearts of everyone who grew up with his shows. It’s why our dinners just got a little lonelier. There’s no doubt the actor, who leaves behind his wife, son, 26, and daughter, 22, will live on in our hearts.
But when you find yourself missing him — and we know you will — just turn on the TV. Big Brother Wenyong set the yardstick for future generations of Ch 8 male stars with the qualities his leading man always embodied: Cleancut, dependable, believable. Times may have changed, our guys more slick and well-groomed, but we’ll always yearn to see a little bit of Ah Shui in our heroes.