Regarded by the Arabic Nation as ‘The Father of Comedy’ , Abdul-Hussein Abdul-Ridha lived his life painting smiles on the faces of many. The recently and most dearly departed Kuwaiti actor and theater legend who passed away on August 11 2017 at the age of 78, bore more than the gift of comedy. Abdul-Ridha had engraved his legacy in the world of theater and the arts not only through bringing laughter to the masses but through his often unsubtle satire and his raising of future generations.
Abdul-Ridha, infamous for his sarcastic and satirical comedy, arguably manifested himself into legendary status after playing Saddam Hussein in Sword of the Arabs (Saif Al-Arab). The play’s story line focused on the first Gulf War in 1991 when Saddam’s Iraq invaded Kuwait. Released in 1992, the play is regarded as not only among the funniest in Middle Eastern theater but also one of the most controversial; the play’s hilarious representations of Saddam put Abdul-Ridha on the dead dictator’s hit-list, quite literally.
In one scene, Abdul-Ridha’s Saddam calls out a soldier standing between two other soldiers in front of his lieutenant. Saddam asks the lieutenant about the soldier with the beret, the lieutenant replies that all three soldiers are wearing berets. Saddam then asks about the one with the gun, the lieutenant replies that all three soldiers are carrying a gun. Saddam asks, with amplifying frustration, who is that soldier with the mustache to which the lieutenant replies all three soldiers are wearing a mustache. Abdul-Ridha’s Saddam, with his trademark slapstick satire, takes out a gun and fires at the soldiers. He kills the first one and screams: not this one! He kills the second and screams: Not this one either! He finally kills the third soldier and screams: That one!
Abdul-Ridha did not only focus on social matters such as the Kuwait-Iraq Gulf War but had partaken in plays highlighting many other social issues in Kuwait and the Middle East. In the early 80’s Abdul-Ridha had acted in a play highlighting the misery created by the region’s stock market crash that had happened shortly before.
Abdul-Ridha’s works and efforts in the Kuwaiti theater and the Arab Nation’s Arts scene transcended comedy and drama. Abdul-Ridha became a symbol of the Kuwaiti national identity and a father to the generations of actors and actresses after him, particularly those in the fields of comedy and drama. Some of these notable members of the Kuwaiti theater are: Dawood Hussein, Tariq Alali, Hassan Alballam.
(Thousands attended the burial ceremony and funeral on Aug. 16 2017)
As revealed by other actors and theater pioneers in Kuwait such as Dawood Hussein and Sa’ad Alfaraj, Abdul-Ridha regularly donates thousands of Kuwaiti Dinars (triple the value if converted to Dollars) to local orphanages and the needy. Dawood Hussein stated to the press during the burial ceremony of Abdul-Ridha on August 16 that Abdul-Ridha would donate 50 thousand Kuwaiti Dinars ( appx. $166 K) to families in need.
Abdul-Ridha was a key founder of the National Theater of Kuwait in 1976 and a key founder of the Arab Theater in 1961. Abdul-Ridha has been artistically active since the year 1962 after having worked for a period of time before in the print department of the Ministry of Information. The theater icon had also volunteered in the Egyptian Army in the early 1950’s when Egypt had one of its several wars with the Occupying Forces in Palestine.
Abdul-Hussein Abdul-Ridha passed away in London’s Royal Brompton Hospital due to a heart attack, shocking his mother country Kuwait into one as well. The loved actor and theater master was buried on Wednesday August 16 2017 along with a good portion of Kuwait’s heart and identity as Abdul-Ridha was that in both life, and now, death.
(As custom permits in Kuwaiti Theater, actors break the 3rd wall to salute and greet the audience before returning to character. A custom that the audience would be greatly enthusiastic to in the case of Abdul-Ridha.)
In one of Abdul-Ridha’s most memorable theater productions, Bye Bye London, Abdul-Ridha had played a character named Mr. Friday. It is only fitting that a man so remarkably in love with his craft, a man so effortless in his executions of witty humor, would pass away in London on a Friday.
It was more than prophetic for this icon to have gone with an artistic bang, it was as if he had the help of the Divine in cementing his legacy furthermore with one last joke.
Abdul-Hussein, you will never be forgotten. May God have mercy on your beautiful soul, we know you can be found in the Heavens making all the angels cry laughing with your arrival as those who love you simply cry with your departure.