Every nation has its defining moments and people – here are 49 significant Singaporeans who have defined the country that we know and love-hate
Singapore has come a long way in these 49 years of independence. In spite of many growing pains and issues that have been hotly debated, even recently, we accept Singapore as home, truly.
Here are 49 notable or notorious Singaporeans who have shaped our fair country, or at least its social context.
Happy birthday, Singapore!
Singaporean twins Miko and Yumi Bai are representing us in Taiwan as By2, a Mando-pop group. They are signed to Ocean Butterflies recording company for the next ten years.
Taking inspiration from the street buskers on board the trains in other countries, The Lorong Boys decided to serenade late night commuters on the MRT after a performance.
The video went viral soon after with many applauding the boys for their spontaneous entertainment. Surprisingly, even the usually straight-laced SMRT Corporation gave the boys two thumbs up.
Funny and crazy duo Munah & Hirzi shot to YouTube fame when their self-deprecating sketches about the Singaporean condition made waves online.
They are now signed to Fly Entertainment and have various hosting gigs, and have even appeared in the local production Happy Ever Laughter.
46. Corrine May
This Singapore songstress is known for her ethereal voice and soft, relaxing numbers. Corrinne May is currently based in Los Angeles. Her last album, Crooked Lines (2012) was based on her daughter’s drawing of a butterfly that she couldn’t seem to get right, and her relationship with God. Her lyrics are heart-warming.
Probably one of the most scandalous Singaporeans ever, Annabel Chong (her screen name), is most infamous for the” World’s Biggest Gang Bang” where she had sex over 251 times consecutively, in the course of ten hours.
Even though it was one of the highest-grossing videos of all time, she was never paid the $10,000 that she was promised. Annabel has retired from the adult industry completely, since 2003. We wish her all the best.
You may recognise Chin Han from his villainous role on popular US TV Series “The Blacklist” (currently airing on Ch 5) alongside James Spader, or as Councilman Yen from Capitan America: The Winter Soldier, or even as “Lau” in The Dark Knight!
Yes, we can be proud that there’s a Singaporean who’s been in a number of big budget US productions!
Lim Kin Mun, better known as Mr Brown on his Internet podcasts and website, is popular for his satirical portrayals and views on Singapore’s culture and political landscape amidst strict regulations.
Once one of the pioneers in spearheading discussion on such topics in an open manner in Singapore, many have since followed in his footsteps.
42. Lim Heem Wei
We had the pleasure of speaking to this affable girl two years ago, just after she qualified for the Olympics. She is the first Singaporean gymnast to ever compete in the Olympics, at the young age of 23.
Heem Wei is currently studying in the National University of Singapore.
41. Tao Li
Tao Li was the first Singaporean (China-born) to make it to an Olympic swimming final, in 2008, when she finished fifth in the 100m Butterfly final.
She was also the first Singaporean to reach the FINA World Aquatics Championships finals.
40. Jack Neo
Apart from his infidelity or casting couch scandal, Jack Neo is known for directing banal humour films such as I Not Stupid, Money No Enough and Ah Boys to Men.
No matter what you feel about Jack Neo’s films, his talent for acting and directing has gotten him recognition throughout the country as well as in the region.
39. Brian Richmond
A familiar voice on our airwaves on Gold 90FM, Brian Richmond has been in the business since 1971. He also hosted the first colour television programme in 1974.
His sons Don Richmond and Mark Richmond have done well in broadcasting as well.
38. Yam Ah Mee
Who can forget this fixture at elections in recent years, including in the general and presidential elections of 2011? This former Executive Director of the People’s Association garnered huge attention because of his dead-pan and monotonous announcements of the votes as Returning Officer during the elections.
Several netizens had even made remixes with sound bites of his announcements set to music, which quickly went viral. He may have since retired but we’ll definitely miss his presence at the next elections.
37. Alfian Sa’at
Alfian Sa’at is one of Singapore’s more prolific playwrights known for soft-touch political plays such as Cook A Pot of Curry, Cooling Off Day as well as Malay shows like Minah & Monyet.
Quite often hailed as Singapore’s l’enfant terrible, his plays challenge and provoke discussion, which is something to be encouraged in the years to come.
This doyenne of Singapore television played Huang Wenyong’s love interest in one of the pioneer Mandarin dramas, “The Awakening”, which sealed her status as a leading lady. Xiang Yun went on to star in many another memorable dramas in the ‘80s and ‘90s, such as “Painted Faces” and “The Price of Peace”, as Singaporean heroine Elizabeth Choy.
She is married to fellow actor Edmund Chen and they have two children.
35. Russell Lee
The USA may have RL Stine and Stephen King but we have our own horror master, the perpetually-swathed Russell Lee.
Although his writing can be quite simplistic, the local touch gives credence to the ‘true’ horror stories offered by readers, resulting in spine-chilling fun.
34. Aaron Aziz
This heartthrob made waves as Vincent Ng’s co-star in the local cop drama “Heartlanders” but, these days, he is more famous for his Malay dramas such as Adam dan Hawa and Oh My English! Season 2.
Local funny man and radio personality Hossan Leong is a regular in the theatre scene for shows such as a Singaporean
The “Singapore Boy” is also fluent in French and was awarded the Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Singapore’s only drag queen ‘approved by the government’, Kumar is an icon in his own right. He cuts a slim figure in amazing gowns on stage while telling vulgar and politically-incorrect jokes.
He is a talented stand-up ‘comedienne’, whose “ovaries grow on the outside”.
31. Huang Wenyong
The late Huang Wenyong was one of Singapore’s first leading men, who was catapulted to fame in “The Awakening”. The drama series was based on the experiences of early Chinese immigrants in Singapore.
He also starred in the long-running dramedy series “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, as the bargain-loving “Lobang King”. He passed away from cancer last year but will always be in our hearts.
Ivan Heng made his Hollywood film debut in The Fifth Element alongside Milla Jovovich as “Left Arm”. Most recently, he’s been seen in local productions such as in The Importance of Being Earnest and La Cage au Folles.
Ivan is also the founding artistic director of W!ld Rice.
29. Lim Kay Siu
Known for film roles in The Blue Mansion and Army Daze, among others, Lim Kay Siu also had a crack internationally with a substantial role in the 1999 Hollywood film Anna and the King. He starred alongside Jodie Foster, Chow Yun Fatt and Bai Ling.
His brother, Lim Kay Tong, another famous actor, first broke into the international scene before him.
28. Adrian Lim
This infamous “Toa Payoh ritual murderer” killed two young children in a gruesome case that shocked the whole of Singapore in 1981. His 41-day-trial was supposedly the second-longest that had been held in the courts of Singapore at that time.
The terror of Toa Payoh is one Singaporean we would like to forget, but never will.
27. Gurmit Singh
Who can forget the loud-mouth contractor with yellow rubber boots? Gurmit Singh is best known for playing Phua Chu Kang who, regrettably, also sang the public service announcement jingle on the awareness of the protocols for SARS.
“If you’re sick call 993, ambulance will come for free…”
26. Anita Sarawak
Anita Sarawak has made us proud since her discovery by EMI Records and subsequent 20-year contract to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
The now 62-year-old has retired in the USA, with her husband and step-son.
The First Princess of Caldecott Hill, Fann Wong may have just given birth to her first child by the time this story is out but she’s one of the few Singaporean actresses to have made it in Hollywood, in a leading role with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Knights, no less.
Of course, Fann has had her fair share of local TV hits as well, such as the “Return of the Condor Heroes” where she acted alongside Christopher Lee, who is now her husband.
24. Zoe Tay
The undisputed Queen of Caldecott Hill, Zoe Tay shot to fame with her portrayal of materialistic Bobo in the Channel 8 drama series “Pretty Faces”. Nonetheless, she is perhaps best remembered for her role in the gambling series, “Unbeatables”, in all three seasons.
Who can forget flying cards and gravity-defying dice shaking?
“Fried Rice Paradise, nasi goreng very nice!” Who can forget this catchy ditty? A talented composer and multi-hyphenate, Dick Lee has composed for many quintessential Singaporean plays such as Beauty World, Fried Rice Paradise as well as the recently-revived HOTPANTS the musical.
Don’t forget, the “Mad Chinaman” has also written one of the most touching National Day songs to date, “Home” (sung by Kit Chan). “This is home, truly…”
22) Kit Chan
Known for singing one of the most touching National Day songs, “Home”, in both English and Mandarin, she also wrote one of the theme songs for a Channel 8 drama, which won the best theme song in a drama at the Star Awards.
She started her record label, Banshee Empire, in 2010.
21. Stefanie Sun
Our songbird Stefanie Sun has done us proud with over 30 million copies of her albums sold thus far. She has also sung a couple of National Day Songs such as “We Will Get There” and “One United People” in the early 2000s.
Stefanie is a mom and is mostly kept busy raising her first child.
20. Eric Khoo
One of Singapore’s more prolific directors, Eric Khoo has several critically-acclaimed films such as Meepok Man, 12 Storeys, Be With Me and the Palme D’or nominated My Magic.
Film maker Royston Tan has done many films with the most famous one being the Hungry Ghost Festival inspired 881, a Hokkien musical on the ge-tai traditions.
His other films such as 15, a story about teenage gangsters in the heartlands, have also gained international attention in the USA and Australia.
18. V Sundramoorthy
A name almost synonymous with Fandi, V Sundramoorthy is widely-remembered for his bicycle kick during a match against Brunei. “The Dazzler” was the second player aside from Fandi Ahmad to play in Europe, for FC Basel.
Fandi Ahmad is a sporting legend of Singapore, and one of its favourite sons. He famously played for Dutch Eredivisie side FC Groningen, and scored in a UEFA Cup match against Inter Milan. He was even offered a contract with giants Ajax Amsterdam, but turned them down.
Fandi is much-loved for helping the Lions win the Malaysian League & Cup double in 1994. He is currently the coach of our Lions XII team in the Malaysian Super League.
16. Teresa Hsu
“Singapore’s Mother Teresa”, Teresa Hsu, may have passed on at the age of 113 in 2011 but she will always be remembered for her compassion and her exceptional health.
She would volunteer at old folks’ homes and practice yoga every morning. We have much respect for this remarkable woman.
15. Sang Nila Utama
The Prince of Palembang, Sang Nila Utama sailed for the island of “Temasek” (the old name for Singapore) from the Riau Islands in search of a suitable place for a new city.
Upon landing on the island, he supposedly caught sight of a magnificent beast with an orange body, black head and a white chest. He was told it was a lion, resulting in our country’s name, “Singapura”, the Lion City.
Nonetheless, historians say no lions were ever in Singapore so what he saw was most probably a tiger.
14. Neville Tan
Neville Tan was once one of the ten most wanted men in Singapore, and was even sentenced to hang for being involved in a gang war that led to the death of a gang member. He was spared the noose because he was only 17 years old, and to young to hang under British law.
Neville found God in solitary confinement when he was in jail on various charges. He later became the founding pastor of the Church of God and has gone around the world to evangelise about Christianity, the religion that set him on the right path.
13. Subhas Anandan
Everybody knows his face. This prominent defence lawyer has worked on numerous high-profile cases such as the case of Anthony Ler, who hired a boy to kill his wife and to pass it off as an accident, as well as the case of Took Leng How, the man who was accused of killing the young Chinese girl, Huang Na.
He now serves as a senior consultant at KhattarWong.
12. Patricia Chan
Locally referred to as Pat Chan, she was the golden girl of swimming in the ‘60s to early ‘70s. Pat won 39 gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games, three silver and five bronze medals in the Asian Games and was Singapore’s first female professional coach in 1973.
Pat later ventured into journalism.
Our favourite son of recent times, Cannes Camera d’Or winner Anthony Chen is now a household name with his multiple award-winning debut feature film, Ilo Ilo.
He was also named as one of Variety magazine’s annual “10 Directors to Watch”.
10. Sheik Alauddin
In 1990, in Holland, 23-year-old Sheik Alauddin won the first World Silat Championship and he repeated his gold-medal performance in the following SEA Games.
His protégés have since gone on to achieve success and many medals in silat. He earned a spot in the Singapore Sports Council’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
9. C Kunalan
Regarded as Singapore’s greatest ever athlete, C Kunalan is now a retired runner but in his youth, during the Mexico City Olympic Games, he set a record for the 100m dash with a time of 10.38 seconds. That feat stood for the next 33 years. Wow.
8) Tan Tock Seng
Back in the day, Tan Tock Seng was a notable businessman and philanthropist. He funded the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which tended to numerous sick people, especially the poor.
Tan Tock Seng Hospital still stands today and many acronym-loving Singaporeans know it as TTSH.
Famous for being the founder of Singapore, he was also credited with planning the early town well, with separate enclaves for various ethnic groups, as well as roads and schools.
He also established Singapore as a free port, resulting in it being one of the busiest ports in the world, even today.
6. Benjamin Sheares
The 2nd president of Singapore, Benjamin Sheares also had a medical degree in obstetrics and gynaecology. His biggest achievement was the invention of an artificial vagina for those born without one. The modification of his invention is still used in sex-change operations today.
That’s something that you never knew about our former president, did you?
5. David Marshall
The 1st Chief Minister of Singapore, David Marshall led a delegation to London to negotiate for complete self-rule for Singapore in 1956, but failed due to the worker riots and fears of Communist influence.
Marshall was also the founder of the Workers’ Party of Singapore and served as ambassador of Singapore to France, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland despite his disagreement with Lee Kuan Yew’s government.
He’s the man on our money, for those of you who don’t know. Yusof Ishak was the 1st Malayan-born head of state of Singapore (Yang di-pertuan Negara) and was also the 1st President of Singapore following Singapore’s departure from the Malaysian federation.
3. Zubir Said
You may recognise this name from the top of your school handbook or music book. This is the man who composed Majulah Singapura, our national anthem, as well as the popular Children’s Day song, Semoga Bahagia.
Google recently paid tribute to him on its search page.
2. Tan Howe Liang
The no. 2 spot goes to one of the grandest Singaporeans in history, Tan Howe Liang. A legendary weightlifter, Howe Liang put Singapore on the world map when he lifted 380kg in the lightweight category in the 1960 Rome Olympics and beat 33 other rivals to the silver medal.
He is still the only Singaporean who has won a medal in all the major sporting events of the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
1. Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew is a name everyone knows, in Singapore and abroad. Whatever your sentiment about his political career and decisions, we have to concede that he is the “Father of the Nation”.
Singapore perhaps would’ve fallen into oblivion post-Aug 9, 1965, had it not been for him. That’s why he’s no.1.