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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Polish actor Krzysztof Kolberger dies at the age of 60

The funeral will be held in the Polish capital Warsaw on Thursday of one of the country's most well-known and popular actors, Krzysztof Kolberger.

He died last weekend at the age of 60 following a long battle with cancer.

A graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1972, Kolberger began his acting career at the Teatru Śląskiego in the southern Polish city of Katowice but shortly afterwards joined the National Theatre in Warsaw where he made his name and remained a member of the company until 1982 and rejoining it in 1999.

Making the transition from theatre to television and cinema, Kolberger became a household name in Poland and also worked with some of the country's greatest film directors including Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi.

He went on to become a director himself - both for theatre and opera, including what was acclaimed as a "spectacular recital dedicated to the memory of Pope John Paul II," which featured the poems of a "young Karol Wojtyła."

In his 40s Kolberger was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, undergoing surgery several times which he is quoted as saying "changed in a significant way his approach to life and career, including the way he acted on stage and the way he directed."

I met Kolberger just once, a few years after he had been diagnosed, and remember him as a gentle, smiling man who took an interest in others and did not dwell on his own health.

It was, as Christophe Musial - an art collector and personal friend of the actor - said, a characteristic of not only the way Kolberger lived his life but also dealt with his illness.

"Krzysztof obviously couldn't keep to a tight schedule after he was diagnosed with cancer, but that didn't prevent him from working," Musial said.

"He simply changed the focus somewhat of what he was doing, and although he was still active in the theatre, the bulk of his most recent performances were on Polish television and in film.

"In addition to that though he also travelled quite a bit around Poland giving recitals. He was renowned for the beautiful timbre of his voice and people just loved to listen to him reading poetry.

What has been the reaction in Poland to the news of his death?

"It's quite amazing how much coverage there has been on television and radio and in the newspapers and it's an indication of how popular he was.

His death has been major news; TV channels cleared their schedules to carry so many tributes from the world of theatre, television and film and replay some of his most popular films. They also repeated interviews Krzysztof had given over the years

And thinking about it, it's more than understandable. Here was someone who in his early 20s became a national heartthrob. He was attractive, adorable and a good actor into the bargain. Everyone loved him.

As the years went by and he matured, his popularity didn't wane. Perhaps because I knew Krzysztof as a friend, I had lost sight somewhat of how widespread his appeal was as an actor."

I read one tribute from the Polish actress Joanna Szczepkowska who said, "Krzysztof was always smiling. That is what we must remember. He did so much for us and chose to give us all a good feeling." What did she mean by that?

"She was right. Krzysztof really was always smiling.

Joanna also said that Krzysztof was 'almost saint-like in his qualities' and by that she meant he radiated a warmth and goodness and, although he might have been suffering, did so in silence and never made a great deal about being ill.

On the contrary. When he went public several years ago that he had cancer, it was almost as though he was trying to break a taboo in Polish society.

Krzysztof set an example. He didn't talk about how cancer was affecting him, instead he was very matter-of-fact about it, showing that he was determined to continue working and encouraging others in a similar situation not to be afraid of the illness, not to give up the fight and to make the most of their lives.

I remember him saying once in an interview that it was as though he had a friend inside of him. 'It's my cancer,' he said. 'And we have to learn to live together.'

He also said that one of the most important moments of his career was when Polish television asked him to read the spiritual testament of John Paul II after the Pope’s death.

Krzysztof thought John Paul II was an inspiration in the way he coped with his illness not hiding it, not being afraid of it and not giving up.

You said tributes had been pouring in ever since Krzysztof's death was announced, not only for his acting ability but also for the way he publicly handled his illness in later years. What personal memory do you have of him that has left a lasting impression upon you?

"I remember a few years ago, shortly after Krzysztof had been through a major operation, I was at his home and he appeared weak, exhausted and had difficulty moving or even speaking.

That didn't stop him from returning to the theatre a couple of days later playing just a small role in which he was required to rush on stage, jump over some obstacles and begin shouting.

When I saw him perform, I couldn't believe it was the same man I had seen a few evenings previously. He was so full of vitality.

After the show though he was exactly the same as he had been before; drained and tired.

'Where had all the energy come from?' I asked him, amazed that he had been able to perform in the way he had.

'Ah you forget,' he replied.

'I'm an actor.'"

Krzysztof Kolberger, born Gdansk August 13, 1950, died Warsaw January 7, 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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