Turkish cinema’s comedic master Kemal Sunal
The legendary Sunal, who appeared in more than 80 movies over three decades, has become synonymous with laughter for many generations in Turkey, particularly due to the ever-naïve demeanor and kind-heartedness of his many characters.
Sunal was born on Nov. 11, 1944 in Istanbul. He was a graduate of Vefa High School and started his university education at the Marmara University Department of Journalism but left university due to the coup d’etat on Sept. 12, 1980.
He started his career in professional acting at the Kenter Theater. Then he worked for the Pendik Theater, Ulvi Uraz Theater, Ayfer Feray Theater, and the Devekuşu Cabaret Theater, where he drew the attention of well-known director Ertem Eğilmez.
The actor played a role in the film “Tatlı Dillim” in 1973 alongside famous actors and actresses Münir Özkul, Zeki Alasya, Metin Akpınar, Tarık Akan, Halit Akçatepe, and Filiz Akın.
His most iconic role was as “İnek Şaban” (Şaban the Cow), a gracious simpleton and the subject of pranks in the “Hababam Sınıfı” (The Chaos Class) series.
Other iconic roles included “Kibar Feyzo” (Polite Feyzo), who defied his village’s patriarchal and feudal system for his love, and the famous “Zübük,” based on a story by Turkish satirist Aziz Nesin that depicted a crooked politician. All these roles made Sunal one of Turkey’s most favorite actors.
After his character “Şaban the Cow” drew great interest, Sunal played this character in many of his films, in which he featured a good and naïve man.
Since the 1990s, his films began to be aired on all television channels. His films “Süt Kardeşler” (Milk Siblings), “Sakar Şakir” (Şakir the Clumsy), “Tosun Paşa,” ”Salako” (The Fool) “Köyden İndim Şehire” (From Village to the City), “Çöpçüler Kralı” (The King of the Street Sweepers) became the most watched films in Turkish cinema history.
Among his awards include Best Actor at the Antalya Film Festival in 1977 and at the Ankara Film Festival in 1989. He was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 at the Antalya Film Festival.
In 1995, he finished his university education at the Marmara University Faculty of Communications Radio Television and Cinema Department and received a master’s degree. His master’s thesis on Kemal Sunal films and his comedian character was published as a book by his family in 2005 under the title “Kemal Sunal Humor in TV and Cinema.”
On July 3, 2000, Sunal died of a heart attack at the age of 55 in Istanbul soon after boarding a plane to go to the northern province of Trabzon where he was due to start work on the film shooting for “Balalayka” (Balalaika). The actor, who had a lifelong fear of flying and a plane phobia, had been persuaded for the first time to go on a flight. Fellow passengers said he could have survived but it had taken 21 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and there had been no doctor on board.