Arts world mourns death of Guy Willoughby


Guy Willoughby, well known as an actor, academic, writer, cultural commentator as well as for his acerbic wit, died of Aids-related complications at his home in Cape Town on 11 August.

His death was met with shock and sadness by the arts community.

Willoughby’s theatrical work included his one-man satire on the military, Major Schittstirrer; the musical African Start!, about Will Schreiner; the multimedia work Looking for a Monster; and the opera of Athol Fugard’s play Valley Song. He was known to radio listeners for his adaptation of South African novels, including Jane Rosenthal’s novel Uncertain Consolations and Douglas Blackburn’s 1908 novel Leaven. His critical work included a study of Oscar Wilde, Art and Christhood — Wilde being an ongoing source of inspiration to Willoughby. He also wrote the novel Archangels, a “queer romance” published in 2002.

He also taught at the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town and wrote extensively for many newspapers, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times and Cape Times.




Performer, playwright, author, academic, journalist, lecturer, bon vivant and humourist – these were the public faces of Guy Willoughby. He was the passionate expert on Oscar Wilde and Bob Dylan. The flamboyant and mercurial charmer, ever ready with a witticism and a gallant gesture. He never walked up stairs, he bounded. He didn’t smile; he twinkled. But the private Guy, or Buch as we knew him, was also a deeply spiritual man and an extraordinarily generous friend. Generous with his warmth, his time, his counsel and his love.

He was one of those people you literally could call up at three in the morning and he’d be there for you. He lived boldly, sometimes wildly. And yet there was a strong sense of duty, too, an almost Protestant ethic of what was ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. So perhaps he was just your ‘typical creative type’? Intense, brilliant, dazzling and a little dark, too. But for those of us who are lucky enough to have called him Friend, there was nothing ‘typical’ about him.

He will be missed more sorely than the telling of it can convey. Germaine Greer once said that human beings have an inalienable right to invent themselves but when that right is pre-empted it is called brainwashing. Guy Willoughby would have made Ms. Greer proud. He was entirely his own person, to the very end. He invented and re-invented himself many times over, dictated to only by himself. He would often sign off his e-mails and text messages thus: From Buch, The Boy Traveler. Great wordsmith that he was, it is hardly surprising that in that pithy little sign off he was able to describe himself better than any of us ever could have. Travel well, darling Buch!

Fiona Coyne
Cape Town
August 11 2009


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