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Some legends are irreplaceable, Jamie Bartlett is one of them

Jamie Bartlett. Picture: Facebook

Jamie Bartlett. Picture: Facebook

Published May 25, 2022

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Mzansi is reeling from the news of the passing of Jamie Bartlett, 55, on Monday.

Amid the flurry of tributes on social media, industry friends remembered the award-winning stage and screen actor’s legacy more intimately.

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A family member is said to have confirmed the news with ENCA. Although the cause of his death has yet to be confirmed.

I was familiar with the veteran actor’s work since my cub days as a journalist covering the entertainment beat. Over the years, following a plethora of one-on-ones, I also got to know Bartlett as a person - one whom I admired and respected greatly.

The British-born SA actor didn’t just leave a legacy – he was an institution in the industry.

Jamie Bartlett with his Safta award.

Bartlett rose to prominence in Gray Hofmeyr’s pioneering SABC3 soapie, “Isidingo”, which launched as “Isidingo: The Need” in 1998, before the name was shortened in 2001.

He was cast as Mike O’Reilly, a disturbingly dark character who ruffled feathers with his politically incorrect behaviour.

“Isidingo” was a hit with viewers for its diverse cast and for boldly tackling issues like racism, interracial marriage and HIV/Aids in its story arcs.

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Bartlett played his villainous role so well that he walked away with The Crystal Award for Best Actor as well Avanti Television Award for Best Actor.

He surpassed his “Isidingo” clout when he was cast as David Genaro in e.tv’s “Rhythm City, which launched in July 2007. Bartlett was pleasantly surprised when his supervillain character, who had a distinct tattoo, became a household name.

In one of our interviews, he laughed when he recalled being saluted in traffic by taxi drivers. He inhabited the role of David for 13 years. And he loved adding new things to his character and finding engaging ways in which to capture him.

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I remember going to Sasani Studios in Johannesburg for many of interviews with Bartlett. He was one of those actors that you needed to meet face to face to get the full picture.

Our chats used to be at the coffee shop. Bartlett would arrive with this massive smile and a smothering bear hug to boot. He never rushed through his answers. He would close his eyes for a few seconds and then give the most poignant comments that flowed like poetry.

Of course, his TV work, which took up a chunk of his time, was also bolstered by his big screen and theatre credits.

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His notable film roles were in “Red Dust”, opposite Hillary Swank and Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Avenger”, “Prey”, “White Lion”, “Nothing for Mahala” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”.

In theatre, he received standing ovations for his performance in “Death of a Colonialist”, which won him the 2010 Naledi Theatre Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role.

Bartlett took his craft seriously. He often weighed in on camera angles and character tweaks on set – and his feedback was always welcome.

He wasn’t afraid to speak on controversial issues either. Back in 2014, he commented on Mfundi Vundla axing 16 long-time actors on “Generations”.

He said: “Who is trying to kid who here? I do hope that somebody takes up the moral ground and picks up the conversation and comes to an understanding.”

“No actor is bigger than the brand. But a company of actors is the brand.”

Nor was he jaded by life either, especially after a harrowing hijacking ordeal back in January 2017.

Jamie Bartlett with his partner Rosa Onious at last year’s Royalty Soapie Awards. Picture: Facebook

The former “SA’s Got Talent” judge kept doing what he does best - living his best life.

As much as he loved being an actor, Bartlett always spoke about his son, Hector, whom he shares with former “Generations” actress Camilla Waldman. Although they divorced, he always spoke of Waldman with great affection.

In recent months, the actor, who started The Finishing College, posted a lot of loved-up photos with his partner, Rosa Onious, and his upcoming projects.

As such, I can’t help but reflect on his parting words in our last interview in March 2020: “At this stage, I can only speak from whence I sit now, I hope, particularly with me saying goodbye to David Genaro, that I’ve left a searing and indelible impression on you.

“And I touched you and I have taught you, I’ve engaged you, I’ve made you angry, I’ve made you sad, I’ve made you want to turn off the television and I’ve made you want to turn it on, thank you so much!"

As our eyes well with tears, we will never forget the lessons this gentle giant taught us, on-screen and in real life. Some legends are irreplaceable, Bartlett was one of them.

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