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Actress remembers deceased friends

Published May 19, 2007


By Sheree Bega

Actresses Gaynor Young, Gina Benjamin and Gaby Lomberg became best friends after they met through their shared love for the theatre - and became known as the Three Gs in the 1980s.

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But tragedy struck in December 1989 when the then 28-year-old Young plunged 18 metres into an unguarded lift shaft during her first performance of Camelot at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

She remained in a coma for six weeks and suffered severe brain damage, deafness and paralysis. Young began her slow journey to recovery and moved to Durban, where she later wrote an autobiography documenting her fall, My Plunge to Fame.

Benjamin went on to become a gifted director and later moved to Australia.

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Lomberg, an accomplished radio actress and comedian, relocated to Cape Town.

But the trio remained good friends and kept in touch regularly.

In February 2006, Benjamin, aged 45, died from a brain tumour.

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In April, a brain tumour also claimed the life of Lomberg, aged 47.

This week, Young told the Saturday Star about the loss of her friends - and her wish to share a bottle of wine and a laugh with them again.

"Twenty-two years ago I went to an opening at the Alexander Theatre . After the show, I was standing in the foyer drinking a glass of wine and I was introduced to Gina.

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"She wore white, had this exquisite jade pendent around her neck and her eyes sparkled. That night I made a friend for life.

"Large parts of my memory have been blocked out , but there are special memories that have lingered. My meeting with Gina is one of them. Taking me into her arms to comfort me, pouring us both an evening glass of wine, rolling around laughing at my description of Francois Swart directing Camelot, letting me come and stay for three weeks because I was homeless at the time.

"Then I had my accident. The night I had my fall, Gina, Kate Edwards and Gaby drove through to the hospital.

"In my book, Gina writes: 'You were coming out of surgery when we arrived. And we saw you briefly as you were wheeled through. It was terrifying and horribly scary. Your head was swollen to about four times its natural size. We sat and sat. And spoke. And waited. Finally a doctor appeared. He said you were critical.

'That's the first time it struck me that you might not survive this. We left the hospital. I dropped the others off, then went home. On my answering machine was an excited message from you. You were playing Guinevere that day. I must hold thumbs. I climbed into bed and cried myself to sleep.'

"Apparently Gina visited me every day in hospital. I remember nothing of this. I went home to George. A week later Gina and Kate arrived at the farm. Gina was in a play in Cape Town and she would often drive up on the Saturday after her performance before leaving again on Monday. An amazing friend.

"About six years ago, she and her two daughters moved to Australia. About 7am every day we would SMS each other. Then I got an email from Gina saying she had a tumour on her brain. She was going into hospital and they were operating the next day. They took as much of the tumour out as they were able.

"Then the chemotherapy began. She had a six-week wait and more tests were done. Good news - it hadn't grown. Then she began radiotherapy finished that. was due to start her next round of chemotherapy the following week. But I received an email from a dear friend telling me that Gina's cancer was back in all its hated force. She died. I miss her still. I will always miss her.

"Gaby was a very dear friend of mine. Before my accident, Kate Edwards, Gaby and I shared a house. It was a happy time, with much laughter, friends popping in and out, great meals cooked by Kate, hearty discussions when it all got a bit much, Gaby was known to go to her room and shut the door!

"Gaby wasn't easy to get to know. She would hold people at arm's length with her dry, caustic but hilarious wit. But I was determined to get to know her and eventually she let me her soft, vulnerable true self.

"Then Gaby got her 'benign' tumour. The way it affected her was horrific. She was unable to remember words and as a result her acting days were over. I really felt for Gaby when she was unable to perform. I understood her frustration and anguish because I was in a similar boat. But that is where all comparisons ended.

"I was brain-damaged. But Gaby had a tumour. I had just moved to George when I got an SMS telling me that Gaby was in hospital. The tumour had turned cancerous. What can I say? What can anyone say? I know that with Gaby's death, a part of me died too.

"Frantz Dubrowsky was a good friend and was often around at our house. I have a memory of Frantz and Gina both being around for a lunch, which Kate cooked.

"Today, Gina is dead from a tumour, Gaby is dead from a tumour. Frantz shot himself, I fell off a stage and am brain-damaged.

"Kate, darling Kate, is happily married in England with two children.

"I do know that death is a transient thing; that one day Gaby, Gina and I, the three Gs, will once again share a bottle of wine, laughter and warmth together. But oh, they're gone and I miss them."

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