A Tragic Final Act

Leslie Cheung, who normally wore casual clothes, dressed for death. At 4:30 p.m. on April 1 he entered the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong in a suit and took the elevator to the private club on the 24th floor, where he was a regular. He ordered a glass of lemon water, a pack of cigarettes and an apple. He went out to the balcony overlooking Victoria Harbour and asked his waiter for pen and paper. And then he hurled himself off the balcony. Cheung was a movie star, a singer and an icon of Chinese pop culture. His body--the famously beautiful face eerily unmarred--was later found by a foreigner on Connaught Road.

The next day, Cheung's death was the top story in Hong Kong, even as the city was preoccupied by the SARS virus and war. From Beijing to Taiwan, his suicide set off an outpouring of grief and speculation. In the West, Cheung was best known for 1993's "Farewell, My Concubine" (in which his character, a Chinese opera star, kills himself) and films by Wong Karwai and John Woo. In Asia, he was a figure of glamour and defiance who had transformed himself from teeny-bopper heartthrob to consummate actor. Openly gay in a culture that does not care to speak of the subject, he donned stiletto heels and long wigs in his razzle-dazzle stage shows, and often played gay characters on screen.

Had he killed himself over a broken heart, as rumors hinted? Surrounded by a mob of reporters, his longtime lover, banker Daffy Tong, said that he had spoken to Cheung at noon the day he died, and that he sounded fine. But the star had tried to kill himself last fall, and had been seeing psychiatrist Felice Lieh Mak. Another theory held that Cheung was possessed by evil spirits after making a ghost thriller. Feng shui consultant Mak Ling-ling, a local celebrity, says his facial features suggested he was going to die young because his earlobes were not long and the space between his upper lip and nose was narrow. Tong dispelled the wilder theories. "There were problems in his career. Many things. I know why, but I don't want to say. It depends on whether his family will say anything."

The day after his death, Cheung's suicide note was made public. "Depression," he wrote on the balcony. "Thank you to all my friends. Thank you Professor Felice Lieh Mak. This year has been tough. I can't stand it anymore. Thank you Mr. Tong. Thank you to my family. Thank you to Fat Sister. I have not done one single bad thing in my life, why is it like that? Leslie."