Kemal Sunal Life

Kemal Sunal (11 November 1944 Istanbul – 3 July 2000 Istanbul) was a master of comedy in the Turkish history of cinema. Famed for his parts as “İnek Şaban”. With “Hababam Sınıfı” “Kapıcılar Kralı” and “Davaro” Sunal gained large popularity amongst Turkish cinema goers and was famed for his role as “Şaban” a name he most often used in his films. His character in films and sayings often reflected the problems the Turkish people face and the country.

Kemal Sunal graduated from Vefa Lisesi (Vefa High School). In his early ages he started pursuing what was to become a long and successful acting career in minor roles in theatres. For a brief period he worked in the Kenterler Theatre and took part in his first play Zoraki Takip. He was later transferred to the Devekuşu Kabare Theatre where he performed his acting.

He was recognized as a true talent and started receiving offers with larger budgets and more famous casts. His first film was by Ertem Eğilmez. In a matter of years Sunal co-starred with Halit Akçatepe Şener Şen Münir Özkul and so on.

Perhaps the most famous of all his parts was when he played in the “hababam sinifi” and was known by the name of “Şaban” but most of his class mates just call him inek (geek) Şaban. The member of Hababam Sınıfı (The Outrageous Class) was a good laugh for many. İnek Şaban was constantly bullied and humiliated by his friends but this never kept him from thinking the unthinkable like digging a tunnel to escape school grounds (which later turned out to lead to the vice-principal’s office) or smoking in the school attic. The character was so pure and so fixed in the memories of the Turkish people it was never replaced by another actor in the recent re-shootings of Hababam Sinifi most probably as a sign of respect to Sunal.

His other notable characters include: Tosun Pasha; Süt Kardeş Şaban; Çöpçüler Kralı who fell in love with a municipality officer’s fiancee; Doktor Civanım a former hospital janitor pretending to be a doctor upon his return to his home village; and finally “Orta Direk Şaban” a naive man trying to become an athlete to impress his crush.

Apart from the hilariousness of his movies one of the reasons that they were so popular were because they addressed many of the problems faced by the urban poor in Turkey during the 1970s and 1980s. In almost all of his films Kemal Sunal plays a poor man trying to make something of himself.

Sunal’s last film was Propaganda which was directed by Sinan Çetin. Sunal played a customs officer-in-charge (presumably) on the Syrian border. Being a drama this film was a contrast to his other works. As the plot unfolded Sunal’s character fell into despair trying to survive the dilemma between his duties as an officer of the law and his duties as a friend. In public opinion this film was not the best of jubilees for the master. In fact it had not been meant to be a jubilee at all. Another significant fact about this film is that it also included Ali Sunal Kemal Sunal’s son cast as a junior customs officer.

Personal life
Sunal kept himself and his family away from the media and rarely appeared in public. People who knew him have commented on how serious he was in his real life in contrast to the hilarious characters he played in his movies.

Whilst he was at the top of his career he decided to graduate from university which he had left in his early career. Despite his fame he attended the university like a regular student and stated that “that was the way he liked it to be”.

Sunal’s dreams of higher-education had been disrupted in 1980 during the period of military takeover. His attempts to earn a degree finally paid off in 1995 when he earned his bachelor’s degree in Radio Television and Cinema Studies from Marmara University. He then decided to pursue a master’s degree (the topic of his thesis being himself) which he earned in 1998 also from Marmara University. This incident was covered by the media with headlines like “İnek Şaban Master Yaptı” (Şaban the Geek got a master’s degree) while his ‘class-mates’ from Hababam Sinifi made comments like “Profesorluk Bekliyoruz” (“We expect full professorship”). At his graduation ceremony he made a speech where he joked that his path of first working and then attending university later in life was better as it allowed people to gain real life experience earlier.

Kemal Sunal died on July 3 2000 as a result of a sudden heart attack aboard a flight to Trabzon just before take off. He was reported to be afraid of flying. His death caused mourning that swept the entire nation and dominated news coverage for many days. He was interred at the Zincirlikuyu Cemetery in Istanbul.

Kemal Sunal was married to Gül Sunal and he had two children Ali and Ezo Sunal.

  • 1977: 14. Antalya Film Şenliği (14th Antalya Film Festival) Best Actor Kapıcılar Kralı
  • 1998: 35. Antalya Film Şenliği (35th Antalya Film Festival) Lifetime honorary award Kapıcılar Kralı
  • 1989: 2. Ankara Film Şenliği (2nd Ankara Film Festival) Best Actor Düttürü Dünya

Kemal Sunal died in July 3 2000 (at the age of 55). He died of a heart attack just minutes before his plane took off. He was going to Trabzon to appear in the film Balalayka.
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