The violence surrounding his death could be taken not only from his most well-known movie, “The Killing Fields,” but also from his life experiences. Dr. Haing S. Ngor’s body was found on the streets of Los Angeles on Monday, surrounded by a pool of blood.
Dr. Ngor, a Cambodian refugee and an Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor for “The Killing Fields,” went through so much to live and yet died in a place he fled to for safety. Some would call it irony.
When he left his beloved Cambodia, he thought he had left the most violent part of his life behind. After all, he had already lost his father, his wife and other family members to the Khmer Rouge.
He thought that finally, he would be safe from the political upheaval that tortured his homeland.
Somehow, with strength and courage he overcame all the brutalities he had experienced and started a new beginning, a new life in a country called the United States and in a city named Los Angeles.
When Dr. Ngor made “The Killing Fields,” he turned the world’s attention to Cambodia, its people and the invasion of the Khmer Rouge. He gave the Cambodian community, both in the United States and in Cambodia, a voice and a place in history. The movie was welcomed by the Cambodian community because of its honest depiction of events that took place in their homeland.
Through his work, Dr. Ngor helped fellow Cambodians heal the wounds of war.
After a Cambodian friend, then 11, watched the “The Killing Fields,” she turned to her mother and cried non-stop. She cried because she saw her father in Dith Pran, the character Dr. Ngor played. She cried because she knew that her own father, a doctor, was no longer alive. She cried because Dr. Ngor’s character made her understand that her father had not died in vain.
The Cambodian community mourns Dr. Ngor’s death not because it lost one of the few, if not only, Cambodian actors in Hollywood, but because even after his success, he never forgot where he came from. He was a humanitarian who went back to Cambodia frequently and was always supportive of the Cambodian community’s efforts to help those back home.
According to Sovann Tith, executive director of the United Cambodian Center in Long Beach, Dr. Ngor was at every community function and fundraiser and spoke to children whenever he could to tell not only his tale, but also the story of his people.
Along with others, Dr. Ngor helped establish two organizations that built schools and clinics to provide aid for poor families in Cambodia.
He did all this because he knew of the horrid conditions that fell upon his country.
At first, Dr. Ngor lived a life of luxury as a young doctor who ate at chic French bistros and was driven around in his Mercedes Benz. All that would change.
When the Khmer Rouge invaded the capital city of Phnom Penh and began targeting young professionals, Dr. Ngor along with his family, fled to a small provincial village. To avoid being persecuted by the Khmer Rouge, he lived his life as an uneducated taxi driver.
Soon, he became not only a witness but also a participant in the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge. According to the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Ngor was “crucified, burned and deprived of food and water for four days.”
News of his death has been difficult for the Cambodian community.
“The Cambodian community is suffering a great loss,” said Tith. “We are proud of him as an actor, as a humanitarian and as someone who let others know our people’s plight.”
Dr. Haing S. Ngor was a symbol of hope for Cambodians. The bullet that killed him not only pierced his body, but also pierced the souls of the Cambodian people.