Malaysia may be a relatively small country, but our nation has produced a fine crop of talented and extraordinary people. Entrepreneurs, activists, musicians, athletes, filmmakers, actors, and politicians – these are all individuals who have excelled as well as thrived in their respective fields.
In conjunction with Malaysia’s 59th Independence/National Day, we’ve compiled a list of 10 homegrown talents who have not only contributed to the country but also inspired Malaysians young and old to strive hard for our goals.
1. Dato’ Lee Chong Wei
With the recent Rio Olympic Games still fresh in our minds, it’s safe to say that Dato’ Lee Chong Wei has stirred many to pick up their rackets. To date, the Penangite professional badminton player has over 600 wins under his belt, including his 3rd Olympic silver medal win. The 33-year-old first won his 1st medal back in 2008, making him the 6th Malaysian to win an Olympic medal and the 1st Malaysian to reach the finals of the men’s singles category.
Despite not winning the gold, his valiant effort in the badminton men’s singles final against China’s Chen Long made him a true Malaysian hero. Lee Chong Wei will always remain “gold” to us all.
2. Dato’ Nicol David
Malaysia’s squash queen, Dato’ Nicol Ann David, is another sports icon and is one of the most recognisable faces in Malaysian sports. Not only has she been ranked world #1 female squash player, the one-woman crusader was the first Asian woman to hold this title. Nicol previously held an impressive 13-month, 51-match winning streak from March 2006 until April 2007.
Currently an 8-time World Open Squash Championship record holder, the 32-year-old sportswoman shares that her journey has been anything but easy. “Every one of those 8 world titles has a special significance in what I had to overcome in life to be able to win each title. It comes with a lot of hard work, pain, struggles, sacrifice, and having to dig deep right into my core to find something more powerful than myself to do what I did throughout those years at the top,” she told The Telegraph.
3. The late Yasmin Ahmad
Yasmin Ahmad played a huge role in changing Malaysia’s negative perception towards local made films. Born in Kampung Bukit Treh in Muar, Johor in 1958, Yasmin was one of the very few new wave filmmakers who wasn’t afraid to tackle taboo topics of multiculturalism in this conservative country.
In addition to the numerous awards throughout her career, Yasmin’s beloved movies (“Sepet”, “Gubra”, and “Mukhsin”) along with the heart-warming Petronas commercials, provided audiences with an alternative understanding of the Malaysian society. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke and passed away in 2009. She was 51.
4. Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh
When it comes to the entertainment industry, Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh undoubtably stands out as Malaysia’s most successful movie star. The actress first got her start when she starred alongside Jackie Chan in 1992’s “The Police Story 3”. Since then, she has been in numerous Hong Kong and Hollywood films but it was her roles in the James Bond film, “Tomorrow Never Dies” (playing the lead Bond girl), and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that launched her to superstardom. Not bad for the former Miss Malaysia who hails from the small town of Ipoh.
5. Tan Sri Tony Fernandes
The phrase “Everyone can fly” has now become AirAsia’s famous tagline. And the man who made it possible for every Malaysian to travel around the world and experience different cultures through Malaysia’s first low-cost airline is Anthony Francis Fernandes, better known as Tony Fernandes.
Shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, Tony mortgaged his own house in October 2001 to purchase the government’s bleeding low-cost subsidiary property and launched AirAsia. After 2 years, the public-listed airline company not only broke even, but it also became profitable.
Since then, the Malaysian mogul has been involved in a reality TV series, “The Apprentice Asia”, and is the founder of the Caterham F1 Formula One team as well as the Chairman of Queens Park Rangers. In 2004, Forbes Asia ranked him as Malaysia’s 28th richest man, with a net worth of US$650 million.
His personal motto is, “Believe the unbelievable. Dream the impossible. Never take no for an answer.”
6. Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir
The eldest child and daughter of the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia, Marina Mahathir is an inspirational figure to many of us. Besides shinning the spotlight on issues like HIV/AIDS, the 59-year-old socio-political activist has also been championing women’s rights, freedom of speech, minority rights, and calling for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientations.
To quote Sisters in Islam (SIS), “In the present climate where there appears to be a rift along the lines of religion and ethnicity, Marina reminds us all that we are united in our humanity.”
7. Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan
Many would agree that Ambiga Sreenevasan is symbolic of the struggle for human rights in our country. Well-known for being the co-chairperson of Bersih, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, she has successfully rallied more than 80,000 people in several rallies to change the electoral system and fight against judicial corruption in Malaysia.
Her persistent campaigning brought about awareness to the younger generation of voters to exercise their constitutional rights, and the human rights advocate continues to strive for equal rights as well as other humanitarian causes.
Malaysia’s pop darling, Yuna, has come a long way since starting out as an indie singer-songwriter on MySpace over a decade ago. With 5 albums under her belt, the 29-year-old Malaysian songstress has not only collaborated with Pharrell Williams, Usher, Jhene Aiko, and DJ Premier, her latest record, “Chapters“, peaked at #8 on Billboard’s Top 10 R&B Albums and No. 16 on Billboard’s Top 20 R&B/Hip-Hop Albums – a first for a Malaysian artiste.
“When I came out here, I was just kind of like, ‘Well, I’m Muslim and Malaysian. I’m different, so I’m just going to be myself and see what happens.’ And it seems like it’s okay. I’m still here and I’m surviving and I still get to do music,” she told SF Weekly. “I’m really grateful that everything is going really well. When I first came out here, I didn’t really think, ‘Oh, I’m going to be successful and I’m going to be a pop star.’ I just really wanted to make music and learn and see where it would take me.”
9. Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr. P. Ramlee
The late P. Ramlee was a Jack of many trades – the Malay entertainment icon was film actor, director, singer, songwriter, composer, and producer. Throughout the span of his career, P. Ramlee has composed over 400 songs and was involved in 66 movies.
During his peak, the entertainer was hailed as a James Dean figure by his legion of fans. “He was particularly exciting to the youth. People used to comb their hair like him, used to walk like him. They used to try to think like him,” recalled Khoo Kay Kim, a professor of Malaysian history at the University of Malaya.
Despite the fact that P. Ramlee died 43 years ago, his works remain popular and entertaining till this day. His films still appear regularly on television, musicians still cover his music, and there are still newspaper articles about him. Aside from roads and places named in honour of P. Ramlee, the National Arts, Culture and Heritage Academy (Aswara) was recently renamed as Universiti P. Ramlee.
10. Tunku Abdul Rahman
“Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” Those were the words hailed by Tunku Abdul Rahman on 31st August 1957, and they still give us goosebumps.
Known as Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence) or Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia), Tunku Abdul Rahman is said to have “an enormous impact on the independence movement and contributed to shaping the emerging pattern of Malayan politics”. Without his leadership and contribution to the country, Malaysia may not have existed today.
And so, we’ll leave you with this nostalgic video:
Of course, we acknowledge that there are so many more honorary mentions such as Dato’ Jimmy Choo, A. Samad Said, Chef Wan, Sheila Majid, Siti Nurhaliza, Pandelela Rinong, and Ling Tan, that deserve praise for their admirable traits and outstanding achievements.
Perhaps you’d like to share with us your favourite Malaysian hero and why you admire them? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below ;)
Have a blessed Merdeka from all us at Hype Malaysia.