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The sad ballad of Victor Wood
[March 11, 2006]

The sad ballad of Victor Wood

(Philippine Daily Inquirer Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)HE STILL gets depressed, but not as often as he used to, he says.

Depression is a state of mind, says Victor Wood, who recently turned 60. Here he is, Philippine musics one-time Golden Boy with 34 gold and platinum records and 30 motion pictures, who was almost destroyed by fame and fortune. I simply think of my successes each time I feel low. What bothers me right now is my unstable financial future.

When asked about his health, however, he quickly rolls up his shirt to prove that he hasnt aged that much, thanks to years of not eating meat. The trademarks are still there: tousled hair (shoulder length and dyed black now), prominent cleft chin, brown eyes, and a 5-foot-10-inch lean frame.

The voice (and other attributes) earned him various titlesJukebox King, Plaka King, and among the women, Bukol (or well-endowed). The Victor Wood style and the texture of that voice has not changed, he insists.

This Friday morning in Pasig, he is awakened for this interview but quickly perks up, talking about the paintings he intends to sell soon. No, he says, he isnt interested in how much hell be getting from the sale. But a show titled Sounds of Color will hopefully take place in March.

We ask him about the supposed love affair with Madame Auring (more on this later) back in 2004, or news reports that he had been shot. That shooting incident capitalized on the fact that I couldnt be located at that time. I hid from people, because I had had a nervous breakdown. I was aware Bongbong Marcos had figured in a shooting, but I also knew that it wasnt me he had shot. Basta takot na takot ako noon (I was so terrified then).

He describes himself as a veteran of psychological problems. It started in childhood rejection, as he never got to know his father, Sgt. Kocky Wood, very well. Confrontations with his mother, Rosario Nobleza, did not do him good, either, and his mothers penchant for constantly changing partners irked the young Victor.

Lonesome self

Luck smiled on Victor in the 70s, though. Parang walang katapusan ang tagumpay (It looked like there was no end to the success), he mutters. He had a rosy career, and he loved the adulation. But deep inside, he was in turmoil. I was very lonely, like there was another part of me hiding behind a mask. Each time I saw the curtains go down, I felt my lonesome self coming out, walking a dark alley without seeing light at the other end.

The Jukebox King claims he was literally and figuratively always drunk. He needed to escape reality. He turned to huge doses of Valium, which pacified his frayed nerves but only while it lasted. When Victor grew more depressed, Valium was no longer enough. Thats when I realized, the more I shone on stage, the deeper the pain became. I became so narcissistic. Even at home I had a big mirror near me to assure myself that my good looks were still there. He battled a nervous breakdown while searching for his father. He would seek therapy at St. Lukes Hospital, and upon the advice of his doctors, cut down on his alcohol.

It was the late 70s when the entire Wood family migrated to the US. Victor thought hed find peace there. In Woodside, California, he rubbed elbows with former Hollywood stars like Shirley Temple. He co-owned four gasoline stations. He was into real estate and landscaping. He managed the $1.5-million Palm Plaza Restaurant. He was active in the Ninoy Aquino Movement, and counted the Lopezes among his friends. Sarap ng buhay (It was a good life). I was comfortable, I enjoyed the amenities.

Severed ties

The prosperity didnt last, however. Along the way, he lost his investments. His marriage broke down, and he severed ties with his children.

Victor was diagnosed as being manic-depressive with suicidal tendencies. He again underwent therapy at the Stanford University Hospital in California when he began thinking of suicide as the answer to his problems.

How Victor rose above this still amazes him. I simply said to myself that death is not the final proposition. Childhood poverty and my familys will to survive kept flashing back. I got myself together, prayed harder than I ever had before, and asked for forgiveness. I read the book, Cause of Miracles, which somehow helped me gain a more positive outlook.

When Victor came home to the Philippines in 1998, he had no clear plans. With the Marcoses no longer in power, he thought the Philippines would be full of promise, with an honest, clean and corruption-free government. There were hints that the owners of ABS-CBN were interested in him for some shows, but nothing concrete came about. Id be hypocrite if I say I did not expect something, he confesses.

Much, much later, local politics beckoned, and Madame Auring came into the picture. Victor ran for vice governor of Rizal to institute changes. He knew he had pitted himself against moneyed stalwarts, but this did not worry him. He doesnt regret losing in the polls, either, although he learned that politics Pinoy style is a murky morass. The Pinoys have a real problem.

Then there was that other piece of news.Yang kay Madame Auring, nasira ako dyan (That thing with Madame Auring destroyed my reputation). He claims his appearances with Auring in 2004 were part of some managers publicity stunt. He wasnt aware this involvement would become tabloid news and the damage remains to this day. He says, from time to time, however, he reflects on the cheap ploy as a learning experience.

Rustic origins

Thankfully, there was painting to turn to. Although not a degree holder in art, the informal lessons Victor took up in Germany developed his impressionistic style. The basic painting lessons came after the former actor did a show sponsored by the Caritas Manila Germany Foundation.

Painting is a point of vieweither you have it or you dont. I read art books; then, I worked to discipline my mind.

Victor drew from the images of his rustic origins in Buhi, Camarines Sur, where he was born. The images varybutterflies, gushing water, fish in nets, rice paddies, supple-figured women, and the majestic Mayon Volcano. He is at home with acrylic and oil. His dream is to combine painting and music in a grand show.

He still feels incomplete, though. He misses his show biz friendsJoey de Leon, Rey Langit, Vic del Rosario, and the late George Canseco. He wished theyd show up, or call him up once in a while. But thats okay. When youre famous, illusion is sometimes stronger than reality.

Victors friendship with Del Rosario, however, is on a different level, he insists. He regards him not only as his talent manager for 16 years, but also a trusted confidante. His relationship with Del Rosario and with Vicor, Victor says, was as strong as that of his own family. Some conflict has arisen over royalty issues, however, many years after Victors alleged whistle-blowing on the payola system in the local recording industry. He hopes that the friendship will survive the ongoing computation of royalties due himif he ever gets them. Masama ang loob ko sa kanila (I have a grudge against them), Victor says.

He gets teary-eyed at the mention of his children by five wives. I have 12 children, ranging in age from 18 to 30. Except for two who live with me, the rest are all based in the US, and I have not seen them for decades. I also wonder how my 16 grandchildren look.

Victor seems to love the simplicity of life now. When I die, I will have nothing to bring with me. Fame brought me the good life, in the same manner it had torn me to pieces. I am thankful to the mothers of my children. They were the ones who put order in our lives.

Victor estimates he makes only about P92,000 a year. He does not have any investments these days. He subsists on payments of previous sales of paintings. He has a savings account. His demands in life, he says, are few.

Its a simple way of living. Theres food on the table. I dont go shopping or malling. The lone TV that sits in the furniture-less sala is my sole connection to the outside world. If theres one thing I like to brag about, it was my countless battles with my ego. I have turned hate into love.

That people still call him idol is enough assurance that he has not been forgotten. His songs still appeal to the heart. Physically, you need to be satisfied; mentally, you have to survive, and spirituallythat, you need above all. If you have all three, you are the wealthiest man alive.

So is Victor Wood happy now with his life? Its a question that drives him to tears.

I am so sorry to all my children, to whom I have not given enough care and concern. I loved my career so much that I put them all in the backseat. I did it then for the love of money, and now I am on a journey that is getting shorter and shorter as the days wear on. Only time will tell. All I know is that Im looking forward to a painless future someday.

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