looking back over my shoulder
I can see that look in your eye
I never dreamed it could be over
I never wanted to say goodbye …
Side View’s weekend theme this week is ‘Looking Back’. I had a completely different post planned for today, but I’ve just had news that a friend has died. Like me, he was often awake before dawn and we spent so many hours in happy bantering chat and respectful, harmless flirtation. A little piece of my heart has turned to ash today, on what would have been his 36th birthday.
Rest in peace, my sweet friend. I will never forget you.
In the mid to late 90s Matthew Stewardson looked set to become a rising star on the South African entertainment circuit. As one of the older presenters on K-TV, Matthew was popular and his star was rising fast.
But after K-TV Matthew seemed to disappear from the radar as he took on small parts in movies – like the part of “valet” in The Redemption, a movie about a boxer who seeks revenge in South Africa.
Matthew later revealed that he was “always a depressed teenager” and “felt like an outsider”. In his early twenties, with the pressure of wanting a successful career and growing up with an alcoholic father, Matthew started using cocaine. “And then I had car accident, and everything got out of hand. I went manic”, he revealed.
But there seemed to be light at the end of it all when Matthew was offered a chance to redeem himself and his floundering career. In 2002 M-Net bought the rights to host a little-known show called Idols, a reality singing competition that originated in the UK.
M-Net appointed two hosts for the show, Candy Litchfield and Matthew.
Everything seemed to be going well for the young actor. He was gaining popularity and he appeared to be in control of his life again.
“I knew I was in trouble and I think one of the basics of staying clean is honesty with yourself. And I wasn’t honest with myself – I went ‘I’m fine’, and that was half the problem I had in Idols. I had this great job and everything was going well, and how could I find someone and say ‘I’m crumbling, I’m going to use’?’
Half way through the first season Matthew was axed and replaced with Sami Sabiti. Soon afterwards the 27-year-old checked himself into a rehab center, shocking South Africans, whose celebrities were always clean and ironed (at least publically), Like Colin Moss.
“This disease doesn’t care what you do. This disease doesn’t care if you’re a street sweeper or a president – it will take you down if you’ve got it… I’ve been to hell and back.” Matthew revealed to M-Net’s Carte Blanche a few months after losing the Idols gig.
It was a long and lonely struggle for Matthew after Idols, but he managed to stay clean for about five months. Then he got the chance of a lifetime – the lead role in Frankly Speaking, where he’d be singing Sinatra songs that he’d known from the age of six.
But just days before the first preview performances, Matthew had a relapse, after being drug-free for six months, and promptly lost his lead role as Frank Sinatra.
Matthew kept a low profile after this and slowly healed himself. He had a brief stint on 5Fm as a DJ, and hosted some small daytime shows on SABC.
Not giving up on his Rat Pack dreams, 34-year-old Matthew created a show called “Sing when you’re Swinging” which was staged at The Barnyard Theater in Broadacres last year. The production included Jonathan Roxmouth, Emmanuel Castis and Bianca La Grange (Idols).
And while he may have missed out on a glamorous television career, and maybe acting in Leon Schuster films, Matthew has managed to find himself in theatre. In keeping with his love of swing music Matthew signed on to play Dean Martin in a Las Vegas-style musical tribute show “The Rat Pack Live on Long Street” in Cape Town later this year. The show features swing music made famous by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior. Matthew will star alongside American Sinatra impersonator Patrick Tobin.