Past and Present: Leslie Cheung’s 20th death anniversary

April 1, 2023, marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, affectionately known by many Hongkongers as “Gor gor” (meaning elder brother in Cantonese), a legendary superstar of Canto-pop and Hong Kong movies.

The superstar chose to end his life at the age of 46 and jumped from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Central on April 1, 2003. He left behind a suicide note stating that he was diagnosed with depression.

The news of his death shocked his fans and many Hongkongers at that time as many believed it was an April Fools’ joke.

“I was heartbroken when I heard the news of his death. His death gave another hit to Hong Kong at that time when the city had already been fighting toughly against the outbreak of SARs,” said Lily Lau, a huge fan of Cheung, as she recalled her feelings about Cheung’s death.

A Legend of Canto-pop and Hong Kong movies

Throughout his 26-year career, Cheung has released over 40 albums, with hits like Chase (1995) and The Wind Blows On (1997) standing the test of time, and are still popular today. Having starred in over 50 films, his role as a gay man in Happy Together (1997) – a story capturing a romantic relationship between two men – has consolidated his reputation as a queer celebrity in Hong Kong.

20 years have passed – Remembering Leslie Cheung

Cheung’s popularity endured through time. 20 years after his passing, events including exhibitions and a concert are still taking place to commemorate this legendary superstar.

A map showing the locations of the commemorative events to be organised on the 20th anniversary of the death of Cheung (Credit: Michelle Chu)

“We will never forget his work and legacy. He will always be the legend of Canto-pop and Hong Kong movies,” said Maggie Chan, a retired clerk who was visiting the exhibition held at Hong Kong MTR Station.

A portrait of Leslie Cheung in Hong Kong MTR Station. (Photo credit: Michelle Chu)

Cheung’s songs also connect with the younger generation in Hong Kong, even with those who were born after his quietus. “I started listening to Leslie’s songs when I was a kid as my mum always plays his songs at home,” said Jenny Wong, a 20-year-old university student. “Although the songs were released a few decades ago, you never feel they are old or outdated,” added Wong.

People are watching a video clip which captures Cheung’s masterpieces in his acting and singing career path in Olympian City, Kowloon (Photo credit: Michelle Chu)

Apart from the exhibitions, Universal Music Hong Kong, a record company, also launched a new music project named “Remembering Leslie Cheung” to pay tribute to the icon. The project invites the new generation of Canto-pop stars including Keung To, a member of the popular local boy band Mirror, and Gigi Yim Ming-hay, a 17-year-old singer from TVB, to cover Cheung’s songs including Chase(1995) and In my lifetime (1995) respectively. Their new interpretation and personal singing style have added freshness to the originals.

20 years ago, Hong Kong lost its star as he fell from the height. Yet the various commemorative events and projects to remember the death of the superstar sent a clear message: he will always be in the hearts of Hongkongers, and his works will always be the collective memories shared by various generations.

Featured Image: Michelle Chu

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