Dr. Haing S. Ngor
A obstetrician and gynecologist in his native Cambodia, Dr. Haing S. Ngor was plunged into a five-year hell when his country was overwhelmed by the Khmer Rouge. Ngor spent four years as a slave laborer, subjected to endless persecution and torture. Things would have been even worse had his captors known of his medical and intellectual background. To avoid extermination, he went without his much-needed eyeglasses, and was forced to stand by helplessly when his pregnant wife died after going into premature labor. Finally escaping to the U.S. in 1980, he was unable to secure work in his chosen profession because his French medical qualifications weren't recognized. His fortunes took a dramatic swing upward when director Roland Joffe cast him as real-life Cambodian translator Dith Pran in The Killing Fields (1981). Having already literally "lived" his role, Ngor delivered a powerhouse performance, one which earned him an Academy Award. Careful to avoid exploiting or cheapening this triumph (at the Oscar ceremony, he dedicated his win to the memory of his murdered family), Ngor chose his subsequent films carefully. His best post-Killing Fields roles include the heroine's father in Oliver Stone's Heaven and Earth and The General in the syndicated TV series Vanishing Son (1994). For Ngor, acting was always secondary to tireless fund-raising efforts on behalf of his fellow Cambodians, and his dogged determination to bring his Khmer Rouge persecutors to justice. In 1988, he wrote his chillingly graphic autobiography, Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey. After enduring so much hardship and heartbreak, Ngor's death was particularly tragic: he was murdered while standing next to his car in the garage of his Los Angeles home. For a while, suspicion fell upon Khmer Rouge assassins; it turned out, however, that Haing Ngor's killers were nothing more than drug-dealing street gang members.