Singer and actor Ramses Shaffy, who died on the morning of 1 December 2009, was a larger-than-life figure who left a lasting impression on the Dutch cultural scene.
He was born in 1933 in the Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of an Egyptian diplomat and a Polish countess of Russian descent. When he was six years old his mother contracted tuberculosis and he was sent to stay with an aunt in Utrecht. He was subsequently taken into care and ended up in a foster home in Leiden. The childhood trauma of leaving his mother is commemorated in his song Trein naar het noorden (Train to the North).
In 1952 he was accepted into the Amsterdam school of drama despite not having finished secondary school. Again he failed to gain a diploma, but nevertheless made his debut with the Nederlandse Comedie in 1955.
In 1964 he formed his own theatre company Shaffy Chantant, which presented a new type of cabaret for the time with literary, poetic and mildly erotic material. This also marked the beginning of a long-lasting musical partnership with singer Liesbeth List.
Ramses Shaffy became enormously popular as a singer in the 1960s and into the 1970s with hits including We zullen doorgaan (We will go on), Laat me (Leave me be), Sammy and Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder (Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire).
His recordings with Liesbeth List were also extremely successful, particularly the duet Pastorale.
Shaffy received numerous awards including an Edison in 1967, the Louis Davids award in 1971 and a Golden Harp in 1980.
He was notorious for his bouts of excessive drinking but he gave up alcohol for a while in the 1980s when he became a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. However, he left the commune to return to acting, appearing in major roles on stage, as well as film and television.
His health began to deteriorate after years of severe alcohol abuse and he suffered Korsakoff-like symptoms, although this was never diagnosed.
He spent the last years of his life in a nursing home in Amsterdam, where Pieter Fleury made a documentary film about him, showing a confused and shaky old man. It won a Golden Calf at the Utrecht Film Festival in 2002.
His health and his memory improved, however, and he made occasional public appearances and even made the hit parades again. In 2006 he was awarded the first Edison Oeuvre Award for the Performing Arts.
In May 2009 it was announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. His last public performance was in October 2009. He died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 76.