Left- Disco Baby (1977)- Stars Nora Aunor, Rico J. Puno/ Introducing Didith Reyes/with Dondon Nakar, Yolly Samson, Apeng Daldal and Raul Aragon/ Directed by Luciano B. Carlos
Right- Nananabik(1977)- Stars Didith Reyes/ Movie teaser
Manila, Philippines—In her prime, Didith Reyes was “a goddess on stage,” says the composer of her signature song, “Bakit Ako Mahihiya.” And so it came as a shock to Reyes’ friends and fans when the sultry siren, best known for a string of love ballads and sensual performances in the 1970s and ’80s (including a wardrobe malfunction that well predated Janet Jackson’s), was found dead practically a pauper at a friend’s ramshackle home in Biñan, Laguna, Wednesday morning.
The original Jukebox Queen, whose hits have remained videoke staple to this day, was 60. Without a Didith Reyes starting a trend, the likes of Claire de la Fuente, Imelda Papin and Eva Eugenio might not have risen to pop stardom.Reyes, Helen Sta. Maria in real life, apparently died of a heart attack, De la Fuente told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).“Her pancreas ruptured, parang binangungot,” said De la Fuente, who had been asked by Vic del Rosario, former head of Reyes’ now defunct record label, Vicor Records, to take charge of Reyes’ wake and funeral.
Senior Supt. Manolito Labador, Laguna police director, said Reyes was found lifeless inside the house owned by Derly Antolin in Barangay Sto. Domingo at around 5 a.m. The house was a patchwork of plywood and sheets of tin, located on the edge of a middle-class neighborhood.
In her statement to the police, Antolin said Reyes had been staying in her house for the past three days.Reyes showed up at her door on Sunday with bruises on her face and body, saying she had been sideswiped by a vehicle, Antolin said. The following Tuesday, Reyes asked Antolin to buy her antacid tablets for her stomach ache.
In 1975, Reyes recorded the single “Araw-araw, Gabi-gabi,” a song about sexual longing, which became a huge hit and eventually inspired a movie. More hit singles followed: “Nananabik,” “Bakit Ako Mahihiya,” “Hatiin Natin ang Gabi,” “Hindi Kami Damong Ligaw”— which established Reyes as a Jukebox Queen whose femme fatale image sent temperatures rising among the male population. “Bakit Ako Mahihiya” became her signature song. She became the talk of the town after she accidentally exposed a breast while singing “Nananabik” at the Famas Awards rites in 1977.That same year, she won the Gold Prize and the Best Performer Award in the Tokyo Music Festival. She sang a Japanese song and bested Morris Albert who sang his own composition, the now pop classic “Feelings.” “She was everyone’s fantasy,” entertainment writer and former record label executive Aster Amoyo told the Inquirer. “Grabe ang appeal niya (She had such a huge appeal). At that time, it seemed like she was the epitome of the pop singer as [a] luscious woman.” Reyes’ debut album, “Didith,” was a multi-platinum seller, Amoyo recalled.
A la Judy Garland
“She had a distinct voice that made her stand out from other singers of her generation,” said Pablo Vergara, who wrote “Bakit Ako Mahihiya.” “She was the perfect singer, beautiful, sultry. She was like a goddess onstage,” De la Fuente said. “Didith was a good person. When her career was still okay, she would often surprise me with gifts, like fresh fish,” said talent manager Norma Japitana. “I helped discover her.” “Her life was classic tragic show biz, a la Judy Garland. Men were running after her. She had a thriving singing career,” Japitana added.
Another friend, who asked that she be identified only as Minda, remembered Reyes as a “beautiful” woman who would wear cheap accessories yet make them look like “expensive jewelry.” “Although many people were saying bad things about her, I know I knew her better as a person,” Minda said. Minda wondered why some of Didith’s friends in show business came when she died but never showed up during the time Didith needed them.
Reyes’ decline, Amoyo noted, began in 1978 when she became unprofessional. “She did not show up at performances. What I know is that at the height of her popularity, she would throw a flat iron [at people who displeased her]. But she was very kind when she was not in a foul mood. She was the type of person who was easy to love,” Amoyo said in Filipino. Amoyo said she barely recognized Reyes during a meeting set up by a friend at a coffee shop in Greenhills, San Juan City, two years ago. “Para akong nalusaw sa itsura niya (I almost fainted when I saw her). She had aged physically, she had gained weight, she was limping due to a wound on her foot and she smelled badly,” Amoyo recalled.
The Didith Reyes of her prime, who reportedly had an insatiable sexual appetite and had affairs with prominent businessmen, club owners and politicians, eventually went on a downward spiral. She got hooked on drugs and alcohol.
Homeless, she once sought help from Amoyo and promised to mend her ways. Amoyo took her to Reyes Haircutters, whose owner, Les (a brother of beauty guru Ricky Reyes), promptly took her in. “But she was a pain in the ass,” Amoyo said with amusement. “She was always drunk, drinking gin straight from a plastic bottle. So I told Les just to let her go, but he just couldn’t do it immediately.” The last bit of news Amoyo heard about Reyes was that she was hospitalized and that Les paid the bill.
Reyes left behind a son, Arvy, now married and living on his own. Before she become famous, she had been separated from husband Victor Reyes. Her last known relationship was with a 67-year-old man from Laguna, her live-in partner for seven years. Reyes’ remains were to be brought for viewing to the Mount Carmel Church on Doña Juana Rodriguez Avenue in New Manila, Quezon City, De la Fuente said.
By Pocholo Concepcion, Maricar Cinco
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Southern Luzon Bureau