Casper de Vries may not be able to call his life-long friend Shaleen Surtie-Richards the way he used to, but he says he is comforted by the fact that her memory lives on in everything she did.
Speaking to The Citizen, the comedian highlighted the fact that people who “will miss her tremendously” can still get to experience her presence in the productions she starred in.
“We still have pieces of her in movies and TV that we can watch over and over. It’s not lost, it’s just gone and we’re all so sad about that,” De Vries said.
For almost four decades, De Vries worked with Surtie-Richards on a number of projects both on screen and on stage.
This allowed the pair to form a remarkably close friendship which De Vries says began when he was still a drama student in Stellenbosch and she was part of an arts council doing a stage production of Hello and Goodbye.
“I just saw that this woman is a tour de force and you know, since then in the ’80s, we became friends and talked and laughed and later we were involved in a lot of work.”
This work, De Vries, said involved a lot of improv and comedy tours alongside Surtie-Richards whom he considered very funny.
“She was the main spotlight. I’m not trying to say that I was on equal footing with her at all. She was a real movie star with Fiela se Kind which was a major success. The thing is, Shaleen could be very human in terms of driving her audience to tears in theatre and movie and TV and that made her special for a lot of people.”
He expressed great despair at the thought of not being able to just phone her for a quick chat – something they often seemed to do.
Another person who mirrored De Vries’ sentiments is road and stage manager Michiel Jacobsz, who bore witness to the friendship De Vries formed with Surtie-Richards.
Jacobsz labelled Surtie Richards a consummate professional and added that the most prominent memory he has of her is her belief that no matter how down you were if you had some makeup on and any kind of jewellery on your body, you would feel better.
Jacobsz, who often spoke to her on the phone, said he recalled once speaking to her about the fact that she needed a back operation but that she did not have medical aid or the funds needed to pay for the procedure. However, she did not let her financial situation get her down.
He says his fondest memories of her will always be their many smoke breaks when she “took the time to ask how you were and made you feel like she had time for you”.
“She was an empath, really cared a lot for people and made time for fans,” he said.
He liked how much of an animal lover Surtie-Richards was as well as the fact that she remained humble and grateful for every kind gesture shown to her.
“She was an institution, not just a person,” Jacobsz concluded.