SINGAPORE - Celebrity hair stylist Shunji Matsuo died on Monday (Oct 9) in his hometown of Kobe, Japan, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67.
Only his close friends had known of the bachelor's illness.
"He didn't want people to know because he wanted to celebrate life and he didn't want people to be sad. He always had enthusiasm for life," says fashion stylist Lionnel Lim, who began collaborating with Mr Matsuo in 2008.
Trained in hairdressing in Japan, Mr Matsuo opened his first salon in Singapore in 1996. There are currently 10 Shunji Matsuo salons in locations including Ion Orchard, Ngee Ann City and 313 @Somerset.
Lim said that he last saw Mr Matsuo at the latter's home about two months ago, before he left Singapore for Japan. Up until the last, Mr Matsuo was dedicating himself to others. He had travelled to Kobe for one of his Makeover Magic shows, an annual event he had held since 2013 in both Singapore and Japan, giving makeovers to older women and cancer survivors. He had stayed on in Kobe to seek alternative medical care.
"He had a very positive conviction that he would get better. He never allowed his illness to stop him from what he was doing," Lim says, adding that Mr Matsuo had previously overcome liver cancer, which left his body in a weakened state.
Actor Romeo Tan, for whom the Shunji Matsuo salon acts as hair sponsor, said that the news of Mr Matsuo's passing had come very suddenly.
"Last week, the staff mentioned he might not make it to the end of the year. But this afternoon, they texted me to say he had passed away. I'm still in shock," he says. "I wanted to make a trip to Japan to pay him a visit, but it's a bit too late now."
Tan remembers that Mr Matsuo would hold a birthday celebration for him in the salon every year, complete with cake. And "every time I went down for a treatment or haircut, he would always be there to welcome me," he adds.
"I knew him as a very kind-hearted person who was involved in a lot of charity work. He did hair shows for the elderly who had cancer, styling their hair and setting wigs for them so they would feel happier and more confident, and have new hope."