Cantopop star-maker Michael Lai dead at 73

Top News | Sophie Hui 2 Dec 2019

The veteran songwriter and producer behind Cantopop's golden age, Michael Lai Siu-tin, died yesterday after a long illness. He was 73.

The Cantopop legend died at 7.55am, with his family and friends by his side at St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay. He was admitted to hospital in May with pneumonia.

To honor his wishes, Lai's secretary said they would not go into details about his illness. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

Veteran actress and close friend, Nancy Sit Ka-yin, who was at his bedside, said Lai passed away peacefully.

"We sang a lot of songs written by Siu Tin during the whole night, especially Precious Darling, which he wanted me to sing in his concert last year," Sit said.

"Although he had his eyes closed, we could feel that he was listening joyfully," she said.

"My tears kept falling as I really missed this legendary partner. He contributed a lot to the music industry. I am heartbroken for his passing."

Local actor Law Kar-ying mourned Lai's death on Weibo yesterday, saying: "Hong Kong artists, musicians have lost another genius."

A TVB spokesman said it was deeply saddened and sent its deepest condolences to his family. It will help his family take care of arrangements.

Lai wrote numerous hits during the 70s to 90s, many of them theme songs of popular TV dramas. He and composer Joseph Koo Kar-fai were acknowledged as the formidable duo behind Cantopop's popularity.

As a music producer, he was instrumental in spotting late superstars Anita Mui Yim-fong and Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing.

He encouraged Mui to join the first New Talent Singing Awards, which he helped organize. He was also the record producer of Cheung's breakthrough album Wind Blows On.

Lai wrote more than 100 songs including Mui's Fiery Tango, Cheung's Passionate Me, and Eason Chan Yick-shun's Crying in the Party.

"I always say the simpler, the better," Lai said in a TV interview.

"The pop songs nowadays are too complicated. People don't remember the lyrics. And there is no image, now many songs are vague, people don't know what they are talking about."

Lai was also the composer in several movies including Behind the Yellow Line, starring Cheung and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, and Jackie Chan's Police Story series.

He won several awards, including Best Original Film Song at the eighth Hong Kong Film Awards in 1989 for the song Yin Ji Kau in the film Rouge, starring Mui and Cheung.

Lai was born to a musician-father and writer-mother in Hong Kong in 1946. His younger sister is choreographer Helen Lai Hoi-ning.

He started his career as a child actor at the age of five in Juvenile in 1953 and The Great Devotion in 1960.

He went to England at 15, becoming a bandleader in the 1960s.

He began his songwriting career after he won third place in a songwriting competition by Television Broadcasts (TVB) in 1973.

He became famous after hosting a TV show with Sit for Rediffusion Television in 1975.

He reunited with Sit to co-host Cantopop At 50 on TVB in 2017, which was to be his last TV show.

His last concert was at the Hong Kong Coliseum last year.

Lai married his first wife when he was 24. The two had a son but later divorced.

His second marriage was with local singer and actress Susanna Kwan Kuk-ying, 12 years his junior, in 1982 after dating for eight years.

They divorced two years later after he cheated on Kwan.

Kwan migrated to Canada but returned to Hong Kong and starred in a TVB drama Heart of Greed in 2007.

Lai later said in an interview that his marriage to Kwan was the most profound relationship in his life.

Lai also dated Sit for two years when they were hosting a show together in the 70s. Lai helped her to return to show business after her divorce in 1995.

He talked to TVB management for Sit to get a role in the drama A Kindred Spirit, which became one of the longest-running series on the channel.

sophie.hui@singtaonewscorp.com

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