Larger-than-life artist Ramses Shaffy dies at 76

Ramse Shaffy, captured here at 50 in 1983.

By RNW

Singer and actor Ramses Shaffy, who died on Monday morning, left a lasting impression on the Dutch cultural scene.

He was born in 1933 in the Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of an Egyptian diplomat and a Polish countess of Russian descent. When he was six years old his mother contracted tuberculosis and he was sent to stay with an aunt in Utrecht. He was subsequently taken into care and ended up in a foster home in Leiden. The childhood trauma of leaving his mother is commemorated in his song Trein naar het noorden (Train to the North).

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In 1952 he was accepted into the Amsterdam school of drama despite not having finished secondary school. He never graduated, but nevertheless made his debut with Nederlandse Comedie theater-company in 1955.

In 1964 he formed his own theatre company Shaffy Chantant, which presented a new type of cabaret for the time with literary, poetic and mildly erotic material.

Ramses Shaffy became enormously popular as a singer in the 1960s and into the 1970s. His music from this era has become firmly embedded in the Dutch canon of popular culture.

He was also notorious for his bouts of excessive drinking but he gave up alcohol for a while in the 1980s when he became a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. However, he left the commune to return to acting, appearing in major roles on stage, as well as film and television.

His health began to deteriorate after years of severe alcohol abuse and he suffered Korsakoff-like symptoms, although this was never diagnosed.

He spent the last years of his life in a nursing home in Amsterdam, where Pieter Fleury made a documentary film about him, showing a confused and shaky old man. His health and his memory improved, however, and he made occasional public appearances and even made the hit parades again. In 2006 he was awarded the first Edison Oeuvre Award for the Performing Arts.

In May 2009 it was announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. His last public performance was in October 2009. He died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 76.

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