On Wednesday, 23 January, Ayşen Gruda died in Istanbul aged 74 after fighting against pancreas cancer for one-and-a-half years. She had been in intensive care for the past month before she passed away.
She was one of a handful of female comedians in Turkey and among the nation’s favourite actresses.
A statement issued by Kağıthane Derindere Hospital, where the veteran actress was being treated, said her death was due to the cancer spreading resulting in other health problems, including respiratory distress and low blood pressure.
Ayşen Gruda appeared in over 100 films, and multiple theatre plays and musicals during a career that spanned 56 years. Her last film appearance came in Sevgili Komşum (My Dear Neighbour) in 2018. She made her debut in 1962 in a vaudeville called Kongre Eğleniyor (The Congress is Having Fun) playing a servant when she was only 18.
Today nearly all of Gruda’s movies are known by heart, having been elevated to timeless classic status. She started her cinema career with hit school comedy Hababam Sınıfı (The Chaos Class) in 1974. However, she shot to national prominence after playing Domates Güzeli (‘Miss Tomato’) in Nahide Şerbet, a TV comedy skit that ran in 1977.
She became part of influential producer/director Ertem Eğilmez’s core team of actors, starring in films alongside other legendary names such as Şener Şen, Münir Özkul, Kemal Sunal, Tarık Akan, Halit Akçatepe and Adile Naşit, who was also one of the other few female comedians in Turkey.
Gruda appeared in dozens of hit movies of the Turkish big screen, including Bizim Aile (Our Family), Neşeli Günler (Happy Days), Çöpçüler Kralı (King of the Garbage Men), Süt Kardeşler (Milk Siblings), Tosun Paşa (Tosun Pasha), Gülen Gözler (Smiling Eyes), Şabanoğlu Şaban (Şaban, son of Şaban), and Çiçek Abbas (Flower Abbas).
She also played in musicals Deve Kuşu Kabare (Ostrich Cabaret), Hababam Sınıfı Müzikali (The Chaos Class Musical) and Yedi Kocalı Hürmüz (Hürmüz with Seven Husbands).
She won Best Actress Award at the Sadri Alışık Awards in 2006 and at the Golden Orange Awards in Antalya in 2010. She was also given an Honorary Award at the Istanbul Film Festival in 2012 and 52nd International Antalya Film Festival in 2015, where she dedicated her prize to Syrian-Kurdish refugee baby Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in the same year.
In an interview with Oya Çınar from Posta newspaper early last year, Gruda was asked if she has any final wish when she died. She replied,“I have no request. The people will know how to bury me. Until that day they will keep loving me, I feel it.”
She was right. People adored her, and her death on Wednesday prompted a huge outpouring of grief. The hashtag #AyşenGruda became a trending topic on Twitter in Turkey, as users shared their sorrow and unforgettable moments of Gruda in the history of Turkish cinema.
Many well known faces from film and entertainment paid tribute to her. One of the most poignant was from Gül Sunal, the wife of one of Gruda’s most famous co-stars Kemal Sunal, who died in 2000. She shared a photo of her first wedding anniversary on Instagram, with Ayşen Gruda, Tarık Akan, Halit Akçatepe, Adile Naşit and Ergin Orbey in the shot, and wrote, “I am the only one left”.
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Renowned comedian and actor Rasim Öztekin tweeted,“We lost one of Turkey’s few female comedians. My stage friend, actress Ayşen Gruda rest in peace”.
Çok az yetişen kadın komedyenlerimizden ve tiyatro,sinema oyuncusu sevgili Ayşen Gruda’ yı kaybettik. Allah rahmet eylesin. Sahne arkadaşım Nur için de yat!
— Rasim Öztekin (@oztekinrasim) January 23, 2019
Film critic Atilla Dorsay said, “It is a very big loss. She was one of the stars of a time when comedy was at its peak”.
Another moving tribute came from production company Arzu Film, which made many of the movies that starred Gruda, which released a short clip of her remarkable career in film.
Aysen Gruda anısına, rahmet ve minnetle..🙏❤🙏https://t.co/09IsHeDbLp
— Arzu Film (@ArzuFilmAS) January 23, 2019
Gruda, who was of Turkish Albanian heritage, was laid to rest at Zincirlikuyu Cemetery in Istanbul on Friday. Hundreds of people turned out for the funeral, including film stars Müjdat Gezen, İlyas Salman, Nevra Serezli, Ali Sunal, Demet Akbağ and Nuri Alço, singer Erol Evgin, and politicians former Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yıldırım, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, CHP Genel Secretary Akif Hamzaçebi and CHP Istanbul MP Gürsel Tekin.
Married to Yılmaz Gruda, whom she divorced in 1976, Gruda leaves behind one daughter, Elvan, and a grandson Emre.