One of Turkey’s leading entertainers Seyfi Dursunoğlu has died in hospital after a short illness.
Dursunoğlu, better known by his stage name and drag character Huysuz Virjin (The Grumpy Virgin), was admitted to Istanbul Acıbadem Altunizade Hospital a fortnight ago. He was being treated for pneumonia, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a statement from the hospital.
The Turkish showman was moved to intensive care with respiratory problems and multiple organ failure three days before he passed away on Friday, 17 July.
Tributes have poured in for the iconic actor, singer and television presenter who found fame in the 70s with his alter ego, transvestite Huysuz Virjin.
Singer Ajda Pekhan wrote: “You refused to be a civil servant and listened to yourself and became a legend. The voice within us, you became courage, you became freedom. I will never forget your beautiful friendship and the kindness you gave to the arts, the stage, the theatre. Sleep in the light dear friend…”
Fellow superstar singer Tarkan tweeted: “Seyfi Dursunoğlu … Today, we lost the other Grumpy Virgin, a living legend. Sleep in the light. Rest in peace. My deepest condolences to all fans, family and relatives. We will never forget him…”
— Tuncer Ç. (@tuncer_celik) July 17, 2020
Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also posted his condolences on Twitter: “I was deeply saddened by the death of master artist Seyfi Dursunoğlu, one of the most treasured personalities of our art world whose typecasting won the love of the people. I wish God’s mercy on him, condolences and patience to all his loved ones.”
Former Presidential candidate Muharrem İnce wrote on his Facebook page: “Seyfi Dursunoğlu was an artist who made a difference in our art world with his intelligence, humour and brilliant Turkish. He made us all laugh and entertained us for years. I wish him mercy from Allah, and patience and condolences to his family and loved ones.”
Dursunoğlu was born in Trabzon, in the Black Sea region, on 1 October 1932, and spent the first part of his life in the Yenicuma neighbourhood of the city, before his family move to Istanbul. He spent part of his high school years at a military college, and after graduating started a degree in English Philology at Istanbul University, but dropped out to work in government as part of the Sosyal Sigortalar Kurumu(SSK, Department of Social Insurance). He remained a civil servant at the SSK for 18 years before deciding to embark on a full-time career in show business.
He debuted his Huysuz Virjin character in 1970, initially working the small club circuit, but word of mouth meant many more people in the industry soon heard about his brilliant live sets. Before long Dursunoğlu was receiving offers from top gazinos (big cabaret clubs) and major events, including the famed annual Izmir Festival, attended by tens of thousands of people.
His big break came when he appeared as drag singer Huysuz Virjin on a talent contest on state broadcaster TRT. In the era before multi-channel TV, much of Turkey’s population would tune into such shows and Huysuz Virjin’s witty quips to TV host Öztürk Serengil helped establish him as a household name.
Also in the 70s, he recorded epic poems as songs (kanto) under the moniker Huysuz Virjin 1 and continued to perform kanto on television as part of his Huysuz Show.
Dursunoğlu appeared in three films and made guest appearances on many television shows. One of his most memorable was as Huysuz Virjin, Cem’s aunt, in the hilarious 50thepisode of hit sitcom Avrupa Yakası in 2005, where he got drunk during ‘dünürcülük’ (asking the family of prospective bride for her hand in marriage) at the family home of Cem’s girlfriend Aslı.
Huysuz Virjin’s enduring appeal was the risqué side of the character, using humour to say what others were thinking, but too afraid to speak out loud. Such naughtiness was popular with gazino audiences and television viewers alike, and propelled Dursunoğlu to national treasure status, who topped television ratings in the 1990s and 2000s, and packed out events.
In 2007, there was pressure from Turkey’s broadcasting authority RTÜK on various media. Channel bosses were told male presenters and performers should not appear in drag.
Instead of bowing to censorship, the veteran entertainer announced he was giving up entertainment, telling CNN Turk, “45 years ago I got dressed in women’s costume and made a programme. So if the Turkey of 45 years ago accepted me, are they not going to accept me 45 years later?”
— Levent Pişkin 🏳️🌈 (@leventpuskin) July 17, 2020
Dursunoğlu did return to Turkish screens briefly four years later as a presenter for a season of Huysuz’la Dans Eder Misin?, a Turkish dance competition adapted from American show So You Think You Can Dance. He also appeared as a jury member on other TV talent shows, before finally hanging up his entertainment boots in 2015 due to old age.
The star was never married, nor did he have any children. He revealed eight years ago that he would bequeath his entire 15 million TL wealth to education charity Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği (Association for the Support of Contemporary Living), which provides education for girls across Turkey and promotes gender equality.