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Friends hail Mario O’Hara: Always a joy, ‘ultimate crush’

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MARIO O’ Hara, left, and Ricky Lee at the Cinema One Originals awards in November, where O’Hara received a lifetime achievement award. “He understood the heart of a writer,” Lee said. richard reyes

Award-winning actor-director Mario O’Hara had refused a blood transfusion which could have prolonged his life.

O’Hara was diagnosed with acute leukemia only this month. He died on Tuesday after three weeks of confinement at San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City. He was 68.

“Prior to his death, his doctor said Mario was able to successfully fight his leukemia. It was just that his hemoglobin count had been low and this could have caused his heart to stop,” said O’Hara’s best friend, playwright and theater actor Frank G. Rivera. “He was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, that’s why he refused a blood transfusion.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible prohibits ingesting blood and blood transfusions even in emergency cases, according to wikipedia.org. They are also prohibited from donating or storing their own blood for transfusion, and this is a “nonnegotiable religious stand.”

“Mario told me, ‘We just follow what the Bible says,’” Rivera told the Inquirer  at O’Hara’s wake at Saint Mary Ligouri Parish in Magallanes on Wednesday night. “I guess he had a hunch his end was near because in our last conversation, he cried, hugged me and told me he loved me and that I was his best friend too.”

Rivera first worked with O’Hara at the Philippine Educational Theater Association or Peta in the late 1960s.

“We were both actors. We became really close in the 1980s when we did several projects together,” he said. Rivera played one of the leads in O’Hara’s 1998 dramatic film, “Babae sa Bubungang Lata.”

“What was weird about Mario was that he never considered himself a really good artist. He was never full of himself. We became friends because I never heard him say anything negative about other people’s work.”

Actress Raquel Villavicencio said O’Hara’s death was “such a big loss. Mario was a joy to work with, whether as an actor, writer or director. He always saw the humor in any situation.”

Villavicencio last teamed up with O’Hara for the 2011 TV5 drama series, “Sa Ngalan ng Ina,” which featured Nora Aunor. “Mario told me he would not have accepted the project if not for Nora,” she said. “I felt that in the beginning, the taping was so stressful for him. He was not used to doing soaps.”

The actress said she was shocked to hear of O’Hara’s passing. “I had no clue that he was sick. He was eating very well. He looked fit. He had a sweet tooth. He loved kakanin. There was no physical indication at all,” she said.

Cannes Best Director Brillante Mendoza said he considered O’Hara one of the most revered Filipino filmmakers. “He would come to my film screenings and even ask questions during the Q and A portion. How many great directors would make time for his younger colleagues?” he said.

“I remember that after winning at Cannes he came to me and said ‘Kaya ka pala nanalo kasi ang galing mo (That’s why you won, because you are very good).’ Coming from a person I really respect, I felt so honored.”

He added: “His death came as a big shock to me. I was just with him a few days before Ate Guy (Aunor) and I left for Tawi-Tawi (to shoot for the movie ‘Thy Womb’). We had dinner together. We were even joking about how old, or young, we were. Everything happened so fast.”

Actress Irma Adlawan admitted having a big crush on O’Hara, whom she first worked with in the play “Julius Cesar.”

“He was my ultimate crush. I portrayed Portia, wife to Mario’s Brutus. We had what I called a near-kiss scene. When the run was coming to an end, I kissed him for real,” she recalled.

Bembol Roco, who worked with O’Hara in the classic “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” (1976), said he regretted not knowing about the director’s illness sooner. “I felt bad that I wasn’t able to visit him in the hospital,” he told the Inquirer. “He was an intelligent and talented man. I’d known him for so long and he was always so positive. I will miss his being a joker and prankster.”

A necrological Mass has been arranged for O’Hara by his relatives and friends at Saint Mary Ligouri Parish on Friday night.


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