A warrior on stage despite cancer

TAIPEI - Taiwanese singer Frankie Kao Ling-feng, who died on Monday, was to have held a press conference on Fe 18 to announce his 40th anniversary concert on March 8.

This spirit to keep on performing despite being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2012 was what his friends remembered after he died, aged 63, at a Taipei hospital with his third ex-wife and their three children by his side. Television host Chang Fei was reported as saying: "He stayed on the stage despite suffering from illness. He was a warrior and lived a splendid and rich life."

Comic Chu Ko-liang added: "He was brave, and he died full of spirit."

Romance writer Chiung Yao, who penned the song Big Eyes which shot Kao to fame in 1974, told Apple Daily that Kao was confident that he could keep his March 8 concert date with fans when he last visited her on Chinese New Year's Eve. She said: "He was that sort who hope they can die on the stage." Kao, who rejected further treatment last year after undergoing chemotherapy, was admitted to hospital on Monday after having bloody stools and died that night while receiving a blood transfusion, said Apple Daily.

His 16-year-old son Pao Ti announced the news to reporters at the hospital, saying he died peacefully.

The singer, who filled tabloids with stories about his three marriages and colourful love life, lived a dramatic life both on and off stage. He became popular singing songs with naughty lyrics which were banned. His hit single, Girls' Dimples, which had a chorus about "messing around" raised eyebrows in conservative Taiwan in 1977, said Liberty Times. His stage persona was flamboyant: He had long hair, earrings and sunglasses.

Born Ge Yuancheng, he was 18 years old and was playing in a band at the Chinese Culture University when he caught the eye of Chiung Yao, said Liberty Times. Her novel, Girl Friend, was inspired by his real-life story of how a girl left him and married another man. She had Kao sing the theme song Big Eyes when a movie was made from the novel. He adopted the name of the movie's hero as his stage name. Kao's bow-legged, energetic dance style and his nasal singing, said to be a result of his Vietnamese-born mother's accent, was much imitated.

For his short neck and performing style, his friend, the late comic Ni Min-jan, nicknamed him The Frog Prince. Li had once laughed at him, saying, "You can't be Prince Charming. Let's call you Frog Prince." Flaming Phoenix and A Flaming Torch In Winter became his trademark songs and at the peak of his career, he was paid what was then a record NT$240,000 a day for his performances. He also started hosting TV shows and in recent years staged a hit travelling variety show, 3 Hard Tenors, with Jacky Wu and Kan Kan.

After he retired, he started a hotel business. But he lost money and returned to TV, impersonating politicians and public figures.

His romantic life was grist for the tabloid mill. United Daily News said he onced wooed singer Teresa Teng while she was in Malaysia by filling a hall in her hotel with 100 baskets of flowers. He confessed to courting Taiwanese beauty Lin Ching-hsia for 10 years. She was a big star and he was penniless and he borrowed a Mercedes Benz to ferry her around. Kao left behind five daughters and a son. His first wife reportedly left him because he was unfaithful and had a gambling habit.

They divorced in 1976 and had two daughters. He later married former Miss Chinatown USA Wen Jieh, who became an actress and gave him a daughter before they split up. China Times last March said his 80-year-old mother and her lawyer husband visited him from California and was shocked to find that he was ill. He was reportedly 18 when his mother left him and his father. Kao blamed his illness on his acrimonious split with third wife Chin Yu-chuang, who was in a well-publicised dispute with him over an alleged NT$3.7 million (S$154,000) that she said was owed to her.

The marriage, which produced two daughters and son Pao Ti, ended after 17 years in 2012 following reports of her kissing a man. But Chin, 44, accused Kao of contracting a sexual disease in China, reported Apple Daily.

According to China Times, he wrote in a memoir: "I was traumatised by the split, my mind not being at peace, my body became imbalanced and it became leukaemia." Yesterday Chin, a former air stewardess, wrote on Facebook: "He has left, the resentment is gone. There's no sorrow, nor happinesss, and no love nor hate." 

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