After a long battle with colo-rectal cancer, popular Taiwanese comedian Chu Ke-liang died of liver failure in a Taipei hospital on the early morning of May 15th. He was 70 years old.
Born in Kaohsiung, Chu (birth name: Hsieh Hsin-ta) began his career at the age of 14 as a stage assistant for a traveling theater troupe. He took the stage for the first time at the age of 17 when he replaced an injured performer.
After working for several years as a Taoist priest at funerals, Chu then worked as a writer-director at a Kaohsiung cabaret hall and eventually became one of the most popular comedians in the region. Recordings of his cabaret shows eventually made its way nationwide in the 1980’s, making him one of Taiwan’s most popular entertainers for the next decade.
In the mid-1990’s, Chu went into hiding due to gambling debts that amounted to NT$1 billion (US$33.2 million). In addition to his boss, businessman Yang Tang-kuei, Chu’s debtors reportedly also included underworld figures. He made a brief comeback in 1997, but disappeared again in 1999.
In 2009, tabloid Apple Daily found Chu still living in hiding in Kaohsiung. After the tabloid revealed his whereabouts in a series of reports, his friends from the entertainment industry offered to help Chu make a comeback. Chu eventually returned to television as a variety show host.
Even though Chu appeared in several films during the height of his popularity in the 80’s, his film acting career didn’t truly take off until a special appearance in 2011 Lunar New Year comedy Night Market Hero (雞排英雄). The commercial success of David Loman (大尾鱸鰻) in 2013 solidified Chu as a new Lunar New Year comedy staple in Taiwan. Twa-Tiu-Tiann (大稻埕), The Wonderful Wedding (大囍臨門), David Loman 2 (大尾鱸鰻2) all broke past the NT$100 million (US$3.32 million) at the box office and were especially popular with audiences outside of Taipei, where Chu’s style of verbal Taiwanese-language humor remains popular with older generations. His six Lunar New Year films have grossed over NT$1.3 billion (US$43.2 million) in total.
Chu’s final film was Lunar New Year comedy Hanky Panky (大釣哥). However, like other local releases during this year’s New Year holiday, the film performed well below expectations.
Chu had been suffering from colo-rectal cancer since 2014, but he avoided surgery because of the possible side effects until September 2016. Chu made several public appearances in early 2017 to promote Hanky Panky, but he has remained in the hospital since March.
Chu is survived by his wife and five children.