My Beloved Fans,
I am truly overwhelmed that you have created this website for me, and given me this whole page to have a heart-to-heart chat with you.
Hmmm…. How does one start? You know, it’s only been after my earthly death that I came to realize how many lives I had touched. Notice the word “earthly”, for I am living in the place of my Lord, so please, do not mourn for me. Instead, it would make me very happy if you could find complete Joie de Vivre, being considerate to your neighbors, loving to your parents and siblings, and doting to your children; in short, celebrating Life and savoring each surprise it gives you along the way, until we meet again…
Now I will tell the story of Ngoc Lan… This is not so much an autobiography as it is recollections, a walk down Memory Lane, if you will…
I was born on December 28. 1956 in Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa Province, Viet Nam. My parents named me Thanh Lan, and Maria was my patron saint’s name, two names they had lovingly picked out months before my birth. From what I know, it was a joyous time for the family, a most memorable Christmas for my parents. Being devout Catholics, my parents believed in “Troi Sanh Voi Troi Sanh Co”, and eventually the Le family was blessed with 11 children, and I was their fourth child! I’ll bet you couldn’t find a household more noisy on the block (or maybe even in the city), yet it was a household never lacking in love. It was this loving environment that I grew up in. As you may have guessed, I lived a pretty sheltered life. My father, Le Duc Mau, served in the Infantry of the Vietnamese army, Communications Division. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, busy with her growing brood. Yet she was always smiling, forever loving, and patient to a fault to all her kids. You know what people always say about the miseries of the forgotten middle child, not so in my case: my mother always made me feel special. My childhood was perfect bliss! I wish more kids today could grow up in such loving families. As a child I was convinced that the expression “the family that prays together stays together” described us. We never missed a day of church, and we were always devoted to one another. As kids, just as when we were grown up, we pursued different interests, but we were always cheering one another on. I can almost re-live those happy moments, going to my music teacher’s house for voice lessons, or playing pranks on my brothers and sisters. You didn’t know about that side of me, did you? Did you think I was born with sad eyes and a sad face? Sure, I had my “bad” moments, and then my mom would say, “well little missy, did you just come back from a funeral?” but, you know, over all, I was just a normal kid, a normal adolescent, and later on, a normal young woman.
Normal, healthy, happy… those were adjectives that best described me. I sure liked a good laugh, and I think I had a decent sense of humor. One time when I was interviewed during a show, a rather difficult question was asked, “what would you say to your boyfriend or husband if he didn’t allow you to sing professionally anymore?” I replied that I would resort to “begging”. The interviewer then asked me “how?”, do you know what I said? Without hesitation, I said, there are many ways a woman can “beg” to get what she wants, but this (the stage) wasn’t an appropriate place for me to explain “how” I would beg. That sure brought down the house! “Lem Linh” was a character trait of mine for as long as I can remember, well, at least until my life became. …. difficult.
You probably all know by now about my beginning in the music industry. I had a fan base that started from those early days singing at Ritz Nightclub, since 1983. The song that brought me closest to you, in my opinion, was Mua Tren Bien Vang, although the two videotapes, very time-consuming, not to mention exhausting, to produce, also provided breakthrough for me professionally. Yet even after I became famous, I was always overcome with emotions when one of you showed even the slightest bit of appreciation over my performances. I was continually trying to improve so as to be deserving of your acceptance. Even after I became very ill and almost incapacitated, performing in a new (third) video was always on my mind. I wanted to give back to all my listeners who continued to write to wish me well. By the way, an apology is owed to all of you who wrote and sent flowers and best wishes to me the entire time I was ill: please forgive me for not replying to all of you, though you were all in my thoughts.
On to a topic many of you have questions: my medical condition. What happened to Ngoc Lan? One of the things that makes me glad about having this page is it gives me the chance to clarify things about my illness. What I had is a condition called Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative disease that entailed the “body attacking itself”. You’ve heard about cells attacking the nerve tissues, causing progressive disability. It has to do with the body’s immune system receiving some miscues somewhere, or even “being tricked” into attacking the cells that are good for our bodies. I first noticed something amiss in 1993, when I woke up one morning not being able to see anything in the room. It was a frightening episode, but then it passed quickly, and I carried on with my life, you know, recording songs, performing live at shows. It was also during this time that my sister and most devoted fan, Thao Chuyen, was violently taken from our family during a robbery. She had been one of the anchors of my life, having encouraged me in my early days trying to make a go at a singing career. Needless to say, it was a period of devastating sadness in my life. So you see, I really had no time to care for myself. It was not until 1994 that I sought medical help. Since Asians rarely suffer from this condition, the doctors did not suspect MS for a long time. Hindsight is always perfect, so I don’t know if the outcome of my life might have changed if I had seen a doctor sooner, or if a correct diagnosis had been made more quickly, or if I hadn’t worked so hard on the videos, neglecting my health … . But there’s no point in discussing all those “ifs”, is there? I just know that my condition worsened pretty quickly after diagnosis. Eventually I came to depend on my husband, Kelvin Khoa, and my family, especially my beloved mother and younger sister, Phuong Thao, in navigating my increasingly difficult day-to-day life. When you all heard that I had passed away, on March 6, 2001, I was “there” to witness your formidable show of love to me. Thousands of you came to say goodbye, while many more sent their condolences to my family. As they say, death is always hardest on those surviving, and this was no exception. In a sense, I was relieved to be rid of my disability, which was increasingly robbing me of my independence as a human being; still, seeing so much pain I left behind was excruciating sorrow!
I may add that I am in good company: others in the Performing Arts had their productive lives interrupted when very young. Remember Marilyn Monroe? She died at the age of 36. What about Montgomery Clift who succumbed at 46? And one of my favorite actresses, Natalie Wood, who died in a tragic freak accident at 43? I’m sure you have also heard of world icon James Dean, dead at the tender age of 24? Our very own Miss Thanh Nga, a beautiful and talented Cai Luong as well as movie actress, died when she was just 37 years old. And who could ever forget Selena, who met untimely demise at 24? And then there’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was not only the greatest composer the world has ever known, but also a performer in his own right. Gone too soon at 35! Of course, the list wouldn’t be complete without Elvis Presley, the King himself. I remember performing one of his hits, Duong Doi (My Way). I can still recall the lyrics:
I’ve laughed and cried,
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing…
Yes, I lost my battle with Multiple Sclerosis, and my singing career effectively ended when I turned 40. I would have preferred to go on singing. I would have preferred to be there for my mother on those Mother’s Days and every single day of her remaining life. I am getting teary-eyed just thinking about that. Yet I am far from bitter. I am in a better place, free from pains.
As I stated above, nothing would please me better than to see those who love me happy. Even if you are not Catholic, you can learn to be “philosophical” as I did: this life on earth is a temporary thing– la vie, elle est tellement éphémère! So, beloved fans, please go on living your lives as good citizens, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, and neighbors. If I could make some simple requests, it would be for you to visit me “in cyberspace” from time to time, think about me once in a while, pray for me, pray for our country, for our children, for world peace. That, my beloved fans, would put a smile on my face!