(UPDATED – June 27, 9:36AM) Director Mario O’Hara died of leukemia on Tuesday morning at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City. He was 66 years old, not 68 as earlier reported.
His death was confirmed by his brother Jerry. His body was cremated on Tuesday night, according to Boy Palma, the manager of superstar Nora Aunor, a close friend and long-time collaborator of O’Hara.
Mourners can visit his ashes at the Magallanes Memorial Chapel 2 in Makati.
Palma said Nora is devastated by O’Hara’s passing and had lost her voice from continuous crying.
O’Hara had been confined at the San Juan de Dios Hospital since June 15 where he underwent chemotheraphy to save his life.
Director Jose Javier Reyes immediately paid tribute to his fallen colleague in a Facebook post.
“…Another giant of Philippine theater and film has passed away: Mario O’ Hara, you are a priceless gem…as an actor, as a writer and as a director. The mourning has not yet ceased as we lost another father, pioneer and visionary,” Reyes said.
Theater critic Gibbs Cadiz tweeted: “We just lost another national treasure. Rest in peace, Mario O’Hara — Renaissance Man, creative titan, the last of a breed.”
An early collaborator of the legendary Lino Brocka, the native of Zamboanga who grew up in the tough neighborhoods of Pasay City, began his career as a supporting actor for the director’s movies during the early 1970s including “Santiago”, “Tubog Sa Ginto”, and “Stardoom.”
His big break came in 1974 when Brocka directed his screenplay for “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang”, now considered as the director’s greatest cinematic achievement.
He continued to collaborate with Brocka over the years with outstanding screenplays for films like 1976’s “Insiang” and 1978’s “Rubia Servios” even as he branched out and found his own niche as a respected filmmaker in his own right.
As both a screenwriter and director, O’ Hara’s works are known for their dark sense of realism with social messages that often border on nihilism.
Some of his noted films are “Bakit Bughaw Ang Langit”, “Condemned”, “Bulaklak ng City Jail” and his magnum opus, “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos”, considered as the greatest Filipino film of all time by film critic Noel Vera, a longtime admirer of his work.
In later years, O’ Hara continued to find his niche in independent cinema, churning out one quality work after another and making the most of the limited budgets of his mostly indie productions.
These include 1999’s “Sisa,” 2003’s “Babae Sa Breakwater” and 2010’s “Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio.”
Among the many honors he received over the years were two lifetime achievement awards for his film contributions from the Cinemanila International Film Festival and Best Film Of The Decade for “Babae Sa Breakwater” in the 2011 Gawad Urian Award.
As an actor, he was also nominated several times by the FAMAS in the Best Supporting Actor category, including for his unforgettable turn as Bertong Ketong in “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang”.
His most recent work was as the director of the acclaimed “Sa Ngalan Ng Ina,” a 2011 teleserye for TV5 which also reunited him with Nora Aunor, the star of his best films.