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Dolphy died at 8:34 p.m. Tuesday at the Makati Medical Center due to complications from pneumonia, his son Eric Quizon and biographer Bibeth Orteza have confirmed.
"Heaven is now a happier place," Quizon said.
Dolphy's death came 15 days shy of his 84th birthday, after 31 days in hospital’s intensive care unit.
Dolphy’s legendary career spanned six decades and 13 Presidents from Jose P. Laurel to Noynoy Aquino, encompassing the vaudeville stage, radio, movies, and television.
“To trace the history of Dolphy's career is to create a map of what was Philippine entertainment through decades of the twentieth and the early twenty-first century,” writer-director Jose Javier Reyes said recently in his blog, “Choking on My Adobo”.
Rodolfo Vera Quizon, Jr. was born on July 25, 1928 on Calle Padre Herrera in Tondo, Manila to Melencio Quizon, a ship mechanic, and Salud Vera Quizon, a tailor. He was the second of 10 children.
“I was circumcised by a barber at the bathroom under our house. When I saw blood, I swallowed the guava leaves I was chewing, which was to be used to cover the wound,” he narrated in his 2008 authorized biography, “Dolphy: Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa”, written by Orteza.
As a boy during the Commonwealth era, he dreamed of joining the US Navy while doing odd jobs, as a shoeshine boy, helper at a garments factory, porter, and calesa driver.
During World War II, the skinny and asthmatic teenager gravitated towards the vaudeville stage, watching shows at Life and Avenue theaters while selling peanuts.
At 16, Dolphy started his career as a chorus boy in a vaudeville revue, performing alongside such stars of the era as Fernando Poe, Sr., Bayani Casimiro, and the comedy duo Pugo and Tugo.
“When there was an air raid, we would interrupt the show and run for cover at the air-raid shelter sa orchestra, kasama ang audience. Kapag walang bombang bumagsak, tuloy uli ang show,” he said.
He adopted the stage name Golay and ventured into radio after the war. It was in radio that his comic tandem with Panchito began.
Most accounts say his first big-screen credit came in the Fernando Poe, Sr. film “Dugo at Bayan (I Remember Bataan)” where he played a bit role.
In a 2005 interview, he corrected the perception that Poe, Sr., father of his dear friend Fernando Poe, Jr., gave him his break in the movies.
“No, he gave me my first job on stage. But in the movies, it was Sampaguita Pictures,” Dolphy said, noting that it was actor Pancho Magalona who recommended him to the studio owner, Dr. Jose Vera Perez.
With a talent fee of P1,000 per movie, Dolphy made his official movie debut in 1952 in the Sampaguita film “Sa Isang Sulyap Mo, Tita”, which starred the loveteam of Magalona and Tita Duran.
Two years later, he became a star with the first of many gay roles in “Jack and Jill”, an adaptation of a Mars Ravelo komiks serial.
This was followed by lead roles in other adaptations of Mars Ravelo properties, including “Silveria”, “Captain Barbell”, and “Kalabog en Bosyo”.
When his contract with Sampaguita expired in 1964, the old studio system once controlled by Sampaguita and LVN Pictures was already on the wane.
“I was practically jobless when I left Sampaguita. It was Eugenio ‘Geny’ Lopez, Sr., na kung tawagin ay si Kapitan, who got me into television,” Dolphy recounted in his 2008 biography “Dolphy: Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa”.
At age 36, Dolphy bet his future on the television industry, which was still in its infancy, and the fledgling network Lopez had founded with the merger of two broadcasting companies.
Dolphy explained why he took this gamble in the book “Kapitan: Geny Lopez and The Making of ABS-CBN”, written by Raul Rodrigo.
“There was no contract. And I wasn’t very interested in money. I was interested in coming out (on) TV. Iyon ang interes ko. When TV came, I knew it was going to be a hit. I knew about Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, the pioneers. So I knew that TV would be big,” he told Rodrigo.
His first project for ABS-CBN was “Buhay Artista”, a free-wheeling musical comedy revue that became a Sunday evening hit for the Lopez network for eight years.
It starred Dolphy, his sidekick Panchito, and Ading Fernando, the writer-director who would become Dolphy’s constant collaborator on television until the latter’s death in 1983.
The cast also included Dolphy’s vaudeville colleagues Teroy de Guzman, Babalu, and Bayani Casimiro.
“It’s hard to do comedy. Drama is easier. In comedy, you have to have a good team. You can’t do it by yourself. Everyone has a part to play,” he said in “Kapitan”.
The show was a consistent top-rater until ABS-CBN was shut down in 1972 when Martial Law was declared.
While doing “Buhay Artista” for ABS-CBN, Dolphy also starred in movies for independent studios like LEA, Balatbat, Filipinas, Zultana, and Fernando Poe, Jr.'s D’Lanor Productions.
In 1965, Dolphy put up his own film company, RVQ Productions, whose first venture was a movie version of “Buhay Artista”. He scored one of his biggest box-office hits as actor and producer in 1969 with “Pacifica Falayfay”, the first of several successful turns as a flamboyant cross-dresser.
It was directed by Luciano “Chaning” Carlos, who would go on to helm a total of 23 Dolphy movies.
‘JOHN EN MARSHA’ ERA
In 1973, Dolphy moved his TV career to RPN Channel 9 where Ading Fernando created the sitcom “John en Marsha”. It starred Dolphy in the role that would cement his lofty place in Philippine culture.
As the poor but principled John Puruntong, he played a Filipino Everyman who married a rich woman’s daughter, Nida Blanca’s Marsha, but refused any financial help from his overbearing mother-in-law, Doña Delilah, portrayed by Fernando’s sister, Dely Atay-Atayan.
“Any Filipino familiar with mass media, its images and elements, can never talk about television without mentioning John Puruntong,” Reyes noted in his blog.
“John en Marsha” ran for a record 17 straight years until 1990, outlasting the Marcos era by four years. It spawned eight successful movie spin-offs for RVQ and launched the career of Maricel Soriano, who played John’s daughter Shirley.
Dolphy reached another career milestone in 1978 when he starred in the Lino Brocka drama “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay” as a gay surrogate parent to child wonder Niño Muhlach.
Although he was only nominated and did not win the FAMAS Best Actor award the following year –Fernando Poe. Jr. took the prize for “Durugin si Totoy Bato” – most critics recognize this role as the greatest of his film career.
“The master comedian proved that behind the perfection in comedic timing lived an actor whose sensibilities and sensitivities could easily elicit tears from the audience as well,” Reyes said.
By his own admission, Dolphy lived a colorful personal life. He was the living embodiment of the dictum that women love men who can make them laugh.
“The tsismis was that I had a relationship with all my leading ladies. Hindi naman po lahat. Mayroon ding hindi natuloy,” he said candidly in his biography.
He never married but fathered 17 children by six different women, all of whom he supported financially, many well into their adult years.
Dolphy always mentioned that he had 18 children, including Nicole, the daughter he and Zsa Zsa Padilla adopted before they had Zia.
Dolphy’s first six children came courtesy of Engracia Dominguez, an actress he met on the vaudeville stage: Manny, Salud, Rodolfo Jr., Freddie, Edgar, and Rolly. He and Engracia separated in 1963.
With Gloria Smith, an actress he met in 1956, Dolphy had four children: Mariquita, Carlos, Geraldino, and Edwin.
Baby Smith, an actress whose screen name was Pamela Ponti, gave him another set of four: Ronnie, Eric, Madonna, and Jeffrey.
Dolphy sired a son, Rommel, by Evangeline Tugalao, a nurse he met in the late ‘60s while shooting in a hospital.
He had another son, Vandolph, by actress Alma Moreno, who became his lover after they starred together in the 1981 movie “Titser’s Pet”.
Regarding his reputation as a ladies’ man, Dolphy was quoted as saying: “Ang mga talagang minahal ko, mabibilang sa daliri ng mga kamay. Huwag na nating bilangin ang naka-fling, at masisira ang abacus ng Intsik!”
In a review of his biography, writer Butch Dalisay described Dolphy as “an extraordinary man who has gifted generations of Filipinos with laughter, but whose own life has been a struggle to balance life and work, to meet the demands of family and fatherhood, to tame his prodigious passions.”
Certainly, Dolphy’s greatest love was Zsa Zsa, the singer and actress 36 years younger, who had been his devoted partner in the last 22 years of his life, the woman called “Lola Ganda” by his grandchildren.
“Zsa Zsa’s real name is Esperanza. That means hope. I hope to marry her,” he said in a 2010 interview with BusinessWorld.
Unfortunately, the petition for the annulment of Zsa Zsa’s 1980 marriage to Dr. Modesto Tatlonghari took a full decade before it was granted by the court last year.
Dolphy had been involved with Alma for six years before he met Zsa Zsa on the set of “Ang Mga Anak ni Pacifica Falayfay” in 1987.
When he left Alma for Zsa Zsa in late 1989, the public outrage was so strong that he had to flee to the U.S. with his new ladylove.
It caused the cancellation of “John en Marsha” in early 1990, a sad ending to the greatest sitcom in the history of Philippine television.
It was the lowest point of his career, unthinkable for an actor who had always been adored by the masses.
THE GREAT COMEBACK
Dolphy and Zsa Zsa lived in exile in the US for two and a half years.
By 1992, his old network, ABS-CBN, was reestablishing itself as the industry leader since the Lopezes reclaimed and rebuilt the network from the ashes of the Edsa Revolution in 1986.
It was ABS-CBN’s turn to gamble on him. Had the viewing public forgiven and forgotten? “Home Along Da Riles”, launched two days before Christmas, proved that the answer was a resounding yes.
The new sitcom had Dolphy playing Kevin Cosme, a widower who lives with his grown-up children in a shanty along the railroad tracks. It was an instant hit, and just like that, his career was back on track.
The show’s original director, Johnny Manahan, quantified its success in terms of audience share in the book “Kapitan”: “It was number one; it started at the 40s. His show was phenomenal from the start. It rated something like a 52 for years. Because of Dolphy. He has magic.”
“Home Along” ran for 11 glorious years until 2003, a rare feat for sitcoms in the new millennium.
It proved to be a tough act to follow for Dolphy’s next two projects for ABS-CBN.
In 2005, he launched “Quizon Avenue”, a comedy sketch with his sons Eric, Jeffrey, and Vandolph that met with moderate success and lasted a year and a half.
A similar fate befell “John En Shirley”, the 2006 “John en Marsha” spin-off with Maricel Soriano and Susan Roces.
His film career fared a little better.
In 2001, Dolphy took on another dramatic gay role in “Markova: Comfort Gay”, about the life of Walter Dempster, Jr., a.k.a. Walterina Markova, who claimed he was used as a gay prostitute by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Dolphy portrayed the old Markova as he reminisces about his youth, while his two sons Jeffrey and Eric played the character in his teenage and adult years.
Directed by Gil Portes, “Markova: Comfort Gay” earned for the three Quizons the Prix de la Meilleure Interpretation acting award at the Brussels International Film Festival that same year.
In 2008, he had his last taste of box-office success when he teamed up in “Dobol Trobol” with Vic Sotto.
Given up for retired, he shook the TV industry one more time in early 2010 when he signed a non-exclusive contract with TV5 to do the sitcom “Pidol’s Wonderland”.
“I think ABS-CBN felt bad about it. But I just wanted to work. I’ve been waiting for a job for the past three years. I love ABS-CBN, but I need to move on,” he explained to the media.
For Dolphy, the transfer to TV5 represented a chance to work with his sons and old colleagues once again and be directed by Eric.
For TV5 chairman Manny V. Pangilinan, it represented an opportunity to be associated with a legend he had long admired.
“I find Dolphy especially outstanding in two things—a Filipino in the truest sense, and, at bottom, a kind and generous man,” Pangilinan said in his note to Dolphy’s biography.
In December 2010, Dolphy played the narrator in TV5’s first film venture, “Rosario”, a well-crafted period drama about the life of Pangilinan’s grandmother.
The role won for him the best supporting actor honors at the 36th Metro Manila Film Festival, a welcome bonus to the best actor trophy he bagged for his other MMFF entry, “Father Jejemon”, also the last entry in his long filmography.
On July 24, 2011, TV5 celebrated Dolphy’s 83rd birthday with a two-hour special called “Talentadong Pidol”.
“Para sa akin, isa siya sa mga dahilan kung bakit patuloy kong ikinararangal na isa akong Pilipino,” his biographer, Bibeth Orteza, said in an interview with pep.ph.
In November 2010, Pres. Noynoy Aquino bestowed the Grand Collar of the Order of the Golden Heart on Dolphy, the highest honor given to a private citizen by the President of the Philippines.
Yet Dolphy was no ordinary private citizen. His peers believed he deserved to be named National Artist in his lifetime and nominated him twice during the term of Pres. Arroyo.
Calls for the conferment of the award grew louder in the months and weeks leading up to his death.
“Dolphy is more than a National Artist appointed by a committee and anointed by a Palace,” Jose Javier Reyes intoned in his blog. “The man who made us laugh is a national treasure. And no simple decision of men or laws can make some as priceless.”