Profession (s): Medical Doctor, Actor,
Education: Medical Doctor, Royal Khmer University, School of Medicine
Awards: 1984, Academy Award - Best Supporting Actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; 1984, British Academy Film Award - Best Actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts; 1984, British Academy Film Award, Best Newcomer to Film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts; 1984, Golden Globe - Best Supporting Actor, Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Contribution (s): Dr. Haing S. Ngor was born in Cambodia, the son of an ethnic Chinese father and Khmer mother. He was trained as a doctor specializing in gynecology and obstetrics and was working in the capital, Phnom Penh, when it fell to the communist Khmer Rouge in 1975. The Khmer Rouge’s extreme anti-Western and anti-intellectual policies placed Ngor in immediate danger. Ngor had to hide his glasses and pretend to be an uneducated common laborer because people who were suspected of being among the intellectual classes were immediately executed. There was widespread starvation, killings, and torture in the following years as the Khmer Rouge immediately forced all city residents into the countryside as part of their policy of destroying everything to create their utopian agrarian society. Dr. Ngor’s wife and child died during a premature birth because of the lack of medical supplies and the fact that Ngor couldn’t risk showing his medical education. He was also tortured at various times, having half a finger chopped off and was hit in the ankle with an axe during interrogations to find out his previous profession. Each time he convinced his interrogators that he was an illiterate taxi driver. Every member of his family was killed except for a young niece, just some of the over 2 million Cambodians that died under the Khmer Rouge.
In 1979, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia gave Ngor and many other Cambodians the chance to flee the country. Ngor ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand with his niece and flew with her to America in August 1980. He became a social worker at the Chinatown Service Center in Los Angeles helping Southeast Asian refugees resettle in the United States because his medical license wasn’t recognized here. In 1983, he was asked to play the part of a fellow Cambodian survivor, Dith Pran, in the movie, “The Killing Fields.” His performance in recreating the Khmer Rouge horror was so powerful and moving that he became only the second Asian and the second non-acting professional to win an Academy Award for acting. Other critically acclaimed acting roles followed including “Heaven & Earth” in 1993. Ngor served as Grand Marshall of the 1992 Chinese New Year Golden Dragon Parade in Los Angeles. He was shot and killed during a suspected robbery in 1996.
Despite his sudden fame, Ngor was devoted to improving conditions in Cambodia and improving the lot of Cambodian refugees in the United States. He used his wealth to bring medical supplies and establish clinics in Cambodia. He helped found two aid organizations for refugees in camps near the Thai-Cambodian border: Aides aux Personnes Deplacees, based in Brussels, and Enfants d’Angkor, based in Paris. He also continued to work as a social worker dealing with refugees in Los Angeles. In 1990, he established the Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation which raised funds to support aid projects in Cambodia. The foundation built an elementary school and operated a small sawmill that provided jobs and an income for local families.