Love saved Ricardo from drugs, despair
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Cape Town - In the ’80s, a cute eight-year-old boy hijacked the South African airwaves with an unlikely hit song. And in doing so, I love you daddy altered Ricardo’s future forever and made him our first true child star.
After a short battle with cancer and recent surgery, he died on Tuesday. I had a chance to interview him for an ’80s review three months ago. After a rocky 30 years, Ricardo Groenewald celebrated his 43rd birthday in June. The father of two boys and two girls credits his wife Helen with his rescue. “If it wasn’t for Helen, I would be living in the gutters today,” he told me.
Ricardo, who has been living in the Mother City for the past 21 years, was born in the Eastern Cape town of Humansdorp. Spotting his son’s singing talent early, Ricardo’s father moved the family to Joburg by the time he had started school.
“My father got me small gigs and I sang in concerts here and there, until Lionel Petersen heard my voice and asked that I perform with him and Neville Nash,” Ricardo explained.
The breakthrough hit we all know him for was written by music legends Attie van Wyk and Al Etto, who died two years ago.
Ricardo and Friends was unleashed on South Africa ahead of Father’s Day in 1987 and played non-stop on just about every radio station, making Ricardo a household name. The fresh-faced youngster was quickly caught up in a pop music craze that became so intense that he wasn’t able to attend school anymore. “Any school I went to, I would basically just get mobbed by the other kids,” he laughed.
The success of the song got him tied into a seven-year deal he says he didn’t understand at the time. “They wanted to put me into a private school at the time, but you know how it goes! Gigs are happening, time passes, you lose interest and eventually you never go back,” he explained regretfully. “I didn’t have the best management and guidance at the time, so I only got to finish Standard 5 (Grade 7),” he added.
At the tail end of the “Daddy” roller-coaster ride, an 18-year-old Ricardo performed alongside Stevie Wonder at a Unicef Operation Hunger event in Japan, which he described as having been one of the highlights of his career. He was still having fun, but with the hit fading into memory and Ricardo becoming an adult, the trade-off of early fame was about to take its toll.
He was soon considered washed up. Drug and alcohol abuse had taken its toll and he quickly had nothing to show for all his hard work.
“Eventually I lost everything I had. I was down and out. Nobody in Joburg wanted to work with me anymore. I was walking down the street one day and remembered how wonderful Cape Town was, so there and then I decided to move,” he said.
A few friends put him up at first and he continued to struggle with poor decisions. He had a few run-ins with the law and was arrested, but said the media often hyped the stories, because he still got judged by his past. It’s a past that had stopped haunting the father of Thieno, 21, Ronnie-Lee, 20, Carlynn, 16, and 11-year-old Ricklynn.
That past happens to include eight other albums, including Song for Madiba in 2013. A proud “man of God” in his later years, Ricardo recorded mostly gospel music.
“I was pushed into this music thing at a young age and now it is the only thing I know how to do. But being a full-time musician is tough when your first commercial song was such a big hit. The expectation is always very high,” he said.
He also had a caution for young people getting into the music business today. “Don’t let anyone take your dreams and aspirations away from you. Make sure you are supervised. Get your education, because with education you can manage yourself,” he said, adding that his own kids’ education is non-negotiable.
He spoke fondly of his youngest, Ricklynn. “He reminds me so much of myself as a kid,” he said. “He sings beautifully and he’ll probably go into music as well…”
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