Why would anyone kill Raymond Choo Kong? That is the burning question on the minds of many who learned about the murder of the man once known as the king of comedy.
Choo Kong, 69, was a fixture in the theatre community and a prolific actor, producer and director whose recent plays included The Mating Game and Choose Your Partner Wisely.
On learning of Choo Kong’s murder, Albert Laveau, artistic and managing director of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW), wondered who would commit such a crime.
“I was talking to him this morning. He was supposed to teach a class. I am trying to cope with this shock,” Laveau said.
Choo Kong was supposed to be hosting a master class at the TTW today. Instead, the theatre community was shocked and plunged into mourning as they learned of his death.
He lamented that Choo Kong was having difficulty with his knees and wondered who would enact such violence on the beloved elderly actor.
“He is a harmless person. Why would anyone want to kill him?”
Laveau said the murder brought the alarming crime situation closer to home.
Relatives found Choo Kong’s body on a chair in his Arima home. It appeared he was stabbed to death. As news of his murder spread through the country, there was an out cry of sadness, disgust, horror and anger.
His death was ‘especially sad’
Community Development, Culture and the Arts Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly expressed profound shock and sadness. She extended condolences on behalf of the Government to Choo Kong’s family and friends and the entire theatre community.
Gadsby-Dolly recalled that recently Choo Kong agreed to be part of the ministry’s masters’ programme to impart his skills and knowledge to aspiring young actors and actresses. She said the contribution Choo Kong made to the arts in TT was significant and the manner of his passing made his death “especially sad for us.”
She prayed that God would grant Choo Kong’s family and friends strength during this difficult period. Gadsby-Dolly said at discussions would be held later with the family about any help which the Government could provide.
Dr Helmer Hilwig, chairman of the board of governors of Queen’s Hall, said out of the 36 years he had been in TT, he had known Choo Kong for 35.
“We did many productions together. Raymond was a kind-hearted person. I don’t understand how he could come to such a violent end. It is such a horrible thought that a man of that stature had to come to an end in such a violent way. It is difficult to comprehend.”
Choo Kong had been on the Queen’s Hall Board since 2017, and Hilwig credited Choo Kong for building the theatre community.
“He was the one, with Richard Ragoobarsingh, who put comedy of a high quality on the agenda. He was known as the king of comedy and an inspiration to so many people. Good comedy is a special art. You have to have the energy and the timing. He built up a tremendous legacy. He will be tremendously missed,” Hilwig said.
As Choo Kong’s death was being discussed online, many commented on his sexual orientation and pondered if it was the cause of his death. Rudy Hanamji, chief co-ordinator of PrideTT, expressed disdain for those remarks and asked that people be respectful of his passing.
“We denounce this homophobia on the highest level. There is no space to justify this type of tragedy by blaming it on someone’s personal love life. Hate should never be a product of love. This is a crime,” Hanamji said.
Choo Kong was a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) community. He was an active supporter of Pride TT’s events.
“TT lost one of its iconic sons. Raymond’s genius is well noted. There is no space for that level of homophobia, especially when his life was lost. This is a terrible loss, not just for the LGBT community but for the country,” Hanamji said.
Last year he did a one-man reading from the play Norman, Is That You? at Pride 2018. This year, he was helping produce Diva Returns! for Pride, scheduled for July 26 at the Little Carib Theatre.
“He witnessed the benefit of Pride. He wanted young people in the community especially to benefits from the projects. Diva was the first-ever produced female impersonator play in the country. The entire country supported Diva. The entire country supported him,” Hanamji said.
Hanamji lamented the irony that he and Choo Kong wanted to dedicate Diva Returns! to Gregory Singh, another theatre stalwart who was also murdered. Now, the show, which will go on, will be dedicated to Choo Kong.
Choo Kong was supposed to have a surprise birthday party at the Big Black Box performing space on Murray Street, Woodbrook. Now his death is an unwelcome surprise for all those who planned to celebrate with him.
Newsday spoke to Robert Roberts, one third of rapso group 3canal and veteran actor, who revealed the plans for the party.
“The entire theatre community was supposed to come. But we are the surprised ones now.
“I can’t even tell you his age. That’s how long I knew him,” he said.
Choo Kong would have been 70.
Roberts was flabbergasted by the death of his friend, and described the murder as completely senseless. But he said Choo Kong had a fighting spirit.
“If it was a robbery, Raymond would not have let someone take advantage of him. That is the kind of person he was.”
Roberts questioned what was going on in the country, and why there were so many unsolved murders.
“There is no sense of justice. What is going on? I cannot remember the last time a person was held for a murder. How do we begin to address these issues without fearing we could be victimised? I am feeling really confused and powerless.”
He called on the leaders of the country to be aware and seriously sincere about the fact that the nation was being terrorised and people felt powerless.
Roberts said Choo Kong helped to make the theatre of TT into a well-oiled and well-produced enterprise.
Roberts said he was involved in a production of Derek Walcott’s Ti Jean and His Brothers and the producers were in the middle of the auditioning process.
‘Very good at what he did’
Newsday editor-in-chief Judy Raymond, who reviewed theatre for many years, described Choo Kong as a great actor who was very good at what he did.
He once wrote and staged a one-man show, naturally titled Everyone Loves Raymond, which was to have been the first of such shows, but as it was, remained the only one.
“His death is a huge and premature loss not only to his family and friends, but also of course to local theatre. It’s the end of an era.”
Veteran journalist Jones P Madeira, neighbour to Choo Kong, expressed his and his family’s shock over the murder.
“I bought my second car from him – and, like the rest of Arima, we were always proud of his achievements and his profile in theatre. His very commanding tone and exuberance on stage, were not reflective of the gentle and generous person we knew, nor the calm of his father who was among Arima’s pioneering Chinese entrepreneurs, providing the town with its most reliable laundry service for decades.
“We knew also that Raymond loved Arima, and though he spread his wings further from time to time, always returned to being a burgess. Indeed, everybody loved Raymond. Arima grieves over the tragic loss of a treasured son.”
Journalist Mark Lyndersay said Choo Kong did that rarest of things in local theatre, he built a career in an environment that might be charitably described as hostile.
“He made theatre work for him by staging the localised comedies that became his hallmark and created a working space for two generations of local theatre professionals. He made an intimate theatre at Bretton Hall with the Space. I believe that he was deeply influenced by the nurturing environments that Helen Camps created in her All Theatre productions at the Little Carib and her later work with the Tent Theatre. In all his work afterwards, I saw the same ambition to make theatre work in TT.”