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Did Barry Ronge Die?


The short answer is no. Barry Ronge is alive and living somewhere in Cape Town apparently.

Ronge is a luminary of SA entertainment journalists, the renowned author of the Spit 'n Polish column, host of a long-running Radio 702 film show, the name behind a coveted Sunday Times fiction book prize and a household name in South Africa. He first came to my attention when I saw one of his interviews on a two seat art show in the mid '80s and early days of television in South Africa. He actually reminded me of an artist friend of my parents, who wasn't all that taken with the comparison. His magical Middle Earth beard, waistcoat, flamboyant style and seemingly limitless vocabulary have become trademarks of a private individual and consummate professional, who ironically led a very public career in television, radio, magazines and newspapers.

Being in the same profession, I've heard and read many curious tidbits about Barry Ronge over the years. The funniest of which is that he was born son to Mr Ronge and Mrs Wright, which I learned from an interview he did with Anne Hirsch in a Kulula in-flight magazine. The most surprising was that he taught Afrikaans at St John's College, which I learned from someone who he taught at the time. Being something of a role model, I e-mailed him several times asking for advice on how to get into film criticism, but never received a response. Years later, I saw that he did know about me and Spling Movies after he took a quote from my review for Spud 2 as part of his other opinions section on his online review site.

For several years, I was one degree of separation from Ronge who attended the same theatrical show as my parents during the Grahamstown festival. Following the show, he asked them what they thought... probably just sharpening his opinion. More recently, I understand he checks in on the John Maytham show on CapeTalk/702 from time-to-time to discuss theatre.

What's sad is that the longtime movie critic, didn't get the send off I believe he so rightly deserved. I put his name forward to the SAFTAs with a motivation as to why he should be honoured as part of the awards ceremony for a lifetime achievement, but my suggestion fell to the way side. Barry Ronge just sort of disappeared from the spotlight... formerly doing synopsis movie reviews on the John Robbie morning show, unceremoniously losing his 702 presenter status, discontinuing his column and fading to black without the sparkle we've come to expect from the prolific man. Maybe the ridicule from Gareth Cliff playing the clip of his emotional response to the Material movie was what sent him into early retirement?

I didn't agree with many of his movie review ratings, but still respected the man, who didn't shy away from expressing his opinion. I compared him to a pastry chef in the way he composed his reviews with flair and finesse... perhaps that's why he didn't respond to my emails? He earned the platform, apparently watching movies at a family-run cinema that served as a nanny when he was the equivalent of a latchkey kid. Having always wanted to meet Barry Ronge, the closest I came to doing so was at a strawberry farm shop near Stellenbosch on the R44... the one with the giant strawberry! Unfortunately, the timing was not good. He was entering the shop as I was leaving with some friends and knowing how much he guarded his privacy, I decided to stop myself from making his acquaintance, since he was with someone I assumed was his partner.

The line of questioning around whether he died or not is amusing to me, much like a fake James Blunt Twitter trend. He's been a divisive character, viral before 'viral' was even a thing. His outrageous presence, paradoxical nature and command of the English language made him a constant curiousity to the South African public. Unfortunately, this has made the iconic character something of a joke to some... which becomes all the more evident when you search his name on some social media platforms. He will however always be a revered and sorely missed literary gift to others, testament to this is the much debated naming of the Sunday Times fiction prize and many longtime fans who search "Barry Ronge Movie Reviews" wanting to know what became of him.

This self-same spirit almost inspired me to follow through on a Searching for Sugar Man style documentary/mockumentary idea, in which we took the position of "what ever happened to Barry Ronge?" and through some loose "investigative journalism" and talking head interviews, got a clearer picture of who he is, why he matters and what became of him. Tongue-in-cheek at first, I imagined working it to the point of being a touching tribute to the man who has intersected with so many South Africans in some way. I'm currently writing a semi-biographical Spudesque retrospective novel about my days at boarding school and he gets a mention as someone who inspired me to say "movie critic" wherever there was a Career Day moment.

So, again... he isn't dead, he's just hibernating. Barry, if you're out there... please let someone know you're okay!