Actor and model Godfrey Gao, who was born in Taiwan and grew up in Vancouver, collapsed on the set of a reality TV show in eastern China, and died hours later on Nov. 27.
The show’s producers released a statement saying that the hospital where Gao, who was 35 at the time of his death, revealed he had suffered “sudden cardiac death.”
Gao had been in the midst of filming an episode of “Chase Me,” a popular Chinese reality series that features competitive sports and activities, and, according to producers, he had been running just before he collapsed.
Many of Gao’s fans have taken to social media to lament his death, with several marvelling at and expanding on the ways in which he blazed a trail for many other Asian-Canadian men throughout the course of his career.
“Godfrey was someone I had endless respect for,” the Chinese-Canadian actor and “Kim’s Convenience” star Simu Liu wrote in a post on his Instagram story. “He killed it on both sides of the world and broke cultural and racial barriers while doing so. He was taken away from us far too soon.”
Several celebrities of Asian descent expressed similar sentiments, noting the impact that Gao had on their lives and careers. “Crazy Rich Asians” star Remy Hii called Gao’s passing “a loss to us as a community as Asian artists,” and actor Yoshi Sudarso wrote that the actor was “a huge torch bearer” for Asian men.
“To see him pass at such a young age is unsettling,” Sudarso wrote. “Thank you for your inspiration and for knocking down walls so we didn’t have to.”
Here are some of the ways Godfrey Gao was a trailblazer for Asian men:
He was the first Asian man to be the face of Louis Vuitton
Many people became acquainted with Godfrey Gao in 2011, when he famously became the world’s first Asian man to appear in a campaign for the luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton — the first, it’s worth saying, in the brand’s entire 157-year history.
The campaign marked a kind of seachange in the fashion industry, and Gao was quickly anointed with the grand title of “Asia’s first male supermodel,” with a profile in The Independent calling him, “the man who is changing the face of luxury goods advertising.”
“I think it’s great that they’re using the first Asian male in all those years,” Gao told The Independent, around the time the campaign was released. “It blew my mind, to be honest. I never thought I’d get this opportunity to be an Asian representative at this level.”
He appeared in 14 television series
Even before he was catapulted into the lofty headlines of the fashion world, Gao was already making a name for himself in the entertainment industry.
After his role on the 2006 Taiwanese drama “The Kid from Heaven,” Gao began appearing in several highly-rated dramas, including “The Queen of SOP,” a 2012 Chinese-Taiwanese show that was internationally broadcast in Singapore and the United States.
Gao’s latest work was a starring role on the forthcoming “We Are All Alone,” a Chinese TV drama based on the novel by the same name that is set to be released in 2020.
He was the leading actor in “The Mortal Instruments” film
Hollywood, in all its glimmering and beguiling prestige, often falls prey to valid criticisms of whitewashing roles, if not a general systemic lack of racial diversity.
So when, in 2013, Gao had his grand debut in the American film world as Magnus Bane in “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” it came as a shock for many — shocking enough, in fact, that Cassandra Clare, the author of the series on which the film is based, noted in an interview that it was imperative that an Asian actor would play Magnus Bane.
“[Gao] was a pioneer in the Asian community [who] stretched our imaginations on what was possible in the industry,” Harry Shum Jr., who went on to play Magnus Bane on Freeform’s series “Shadowhunters,” wrote on Twitter. “To the original Magnus who left us way too soon, you left an impression on us that’ll last forever.”
Gao also acted in numerous other movies, but his standout American film role may have been his starring one in “The Jade Pendant,” a tragic love story that won two Golden Angel awards at the 2017 Chinese American Film Festival, including the Most Popular Actor Award.