Veteran actress Shaleen Surtie-Richards had been in Cape Town to shoot episodes of the show she was appearing in – and when she didn’t show up on set on Monday morning, someone went looking for her at the guesthouse where she was staying.
The 66-year-old star was found in her room, plunging the South African entertainment world – and her many fans – into mourning.
“I can’t believe it,” says actor and TV presenter Hannes van Wyk. “It’s absolutely awful. I saw her just a few days ago.”
Shaleen, who shot to prominence playing Nenna in the long-running soap Egoli, had been in the Mother City to film episodes of the kykNET&Kie telenovela Arendsvlei.
The circumstances of her death are still unclear, says Shaun Mynhardt, founder of the South African Legends Museum.
“None of us know exactly what happened. I understand she was still fine yesterday. They’d rehearsed all day and no one suspected anything was amiss,” he says.
Shaleen went to her room late on Sunday night and it was the last time she was seen alive.
“It’s incredibly tragic,” Shaun says. “No one had been expecting this.”
Shaun says an autopsy will determine the cause of death but he believes it’s possible Shaleen suffered another stroke. The actress, who had been plagued by health issues in recent years, had a stroke in 2012.
“Her death is tragic and a huge loss for the arts world,” he says. “You kind of wonder if there wasn’t something you could’ve done. But there wasn’t. No one could’ve guessed she wouldn’t wake up.”
In an interview with YOU in 2018, Shaleen, who was also diabetic, reflected on her health problems and her struggle to find work as she grew older.
“Growing old isn’t for sissies,” she said. Jobs were scarce, she had a home loan to pay off and she was still recovering from her stroke.
She was playing Fiela Komoetie in the stage production of Fiela se Kind and was also working on e.tv’s Broken Vows when she collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where it was determined she’d had a stroke.
She had a big fright, she said, and came face to face with the brutal reality of growing older. “I’m asking the Lord to please never let that happen to me again,” she said.
Shaleen made lifestyle changes and tried to stop smoking – “it’s the only thing I can’t seem to conquer” – and her life seemed to be back on track.
“I take life as it comes,” she said. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”