[Update: 23 Jan, 1115pm with reaction from wake]
Singaporeans from all walks of life have been paying their final respects to getai star John Cheng, better known as Ah Nan, who passed away suddenly at the age of 52.
More than 100 people travelled to the veteran performer’s wake on Tuesday night, the same day he died, according to a long-time family friend whom Yahoo! Singapore spoke to on Wednesday afternoon.
They included key figures of the local entertainment scene such as director Jack Neo and actress Patricia Mok, who had worked with Cheng when he acted in Neo’s films Money No Enough, Liang Po Po: The Movie and I Not Stupid, among a host of others.
Several others who worked with Ah Nan in the getai scene over the years will also be making the journey down from Malaysia to pay their last respects to him, said the family friend, who did not want to be named, but who himself had known Cheng for over 20 years.
The outpouring of sympathy and sheer number of people who have so far visited Cheng’s wake in Yishun Ring Road has touched his family.
The youngest of Cheng’s four daughters (the oldest of which comes from an earlier marriage), 16-year-old Irene, who is sitting for her ‘O’ levels this year, told Yahoo! Singapore that she is “very thankful” to all the people who have come to pay respects to her father.
“(His passing) was very sudden, and none of us expected it,” she said. “I’m still finding it very difficult to accept... he still looks like he’s just asleep.”
Cheng, a former loan shark and gang member, showed his fierce loyalty to Neo amid the latter's sex scandal almost three years ago.
In a press briefing in March 2010, during which Neo apologised for an extra-marital affair and his wife fainted, Cheng shouted "Zou kai! Zou kai! (Go away! Go away!)" as he dove into a sea of photographers to push them away from the retreating couple.
Cheng passed away late on Monday night when he felt short of breath after singing what would be his swan song at a nightclub in Parklane Shopping Mall.
When an ambulance arrived shortly after, he passed out due to a heart-attack and was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
According to The Straits Times, he had been performing about five shows a week at Club Cleopatra since November last year. His wife told the paper that he had been having 15-minute spells of cold sweats and chest pains for some time, but they did not suspect significant problems as Cheng was also on high cholesterol and high blood pressure medication.
Before entering showbiz, Cheng previously said in an interview that he led a tainted past, blotted by violence, gangsterism and even spent time as a loan shark runner. He was also jailed for a year for Ecstasy abuse, which he reportedly maintains was slipped into his drink without his knowledge.
However, he turned over a new leaf with the birth of his three daughters with his second wife.
One of his daughters Jia Yin, a second-year student at NUS, told ST, "He always told us that he wanted to make sure we all went to university. Sometimes, I could tell that he was tired and we would tell him to stop, but he said, 'I will just work a little bit more extra for you all'."
Cheng’s wake is held at the void deck of Block 254, Yishun Ring Road until his funeral on Saturday.