Former General Hospital star Suzanne Whang (ex-Carol Chang) passed away on September 17 after a long journey with breast cancer. Her longtime agent Eddie Culbertson confirmed the sad news, which was further clarified by her partner Jeff Vezain.
Whang, who was also known as the host of HGTV's House Hunters, has been dealing with breast cancer for the past thirteen years, first being diagnosed in 2006. Doctors gave her less than a year to live back in 2011, but she maintained a positive attitude, and, after she implemented several diet and spiritual changes, the cancer went into remission. Sadly, the cancer returned in October 2018, and she had been trying to defend herself against it since that time.
After her initial recovery from stage 4 breast cancer, Whang -- who used her razor-sharp wit to write and perform a humorous solo show about her cancer journey -- was a guest on Soap Central's sister podcast, Kroll Call, where she explained her cancer journey at the time.
"[I've been launched] on a wild and crazy journey of having breast cancer not once, not twice, but three times, because, like most Asians, I'm an overachiever," she joked to host Dan J Kroll. "I can't just do it once, Dan! Come on! I've got to do it three times. And then, the third time, it metastasized to stage 4."
Whang was left with what she called "fascinating" breasts after having a grapefruit-sized tumor removed, which prompted her to pose for a topless photoshoot. She loved one photo in particular -- "because I have this expression on my face that basically says, 'I'm okay with this. I think I'm beautiful, so you can think so, too, and take whatever preconceived notions you have about beauty and possibly challenge them" -- which she decided to share on Facebook along with an open apology to breast cancer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As she explained to Kroll Call, the photo she posted was quickly flagged by the social media platform and removed for being "offensive and pornographic."
"[That] really broke my heart because I think I had about 300 comments underneath the picture and the open apology letter of people that were just inspired and moved and thought it was funny and thought it was brave, or it moved them -- and all of that just went away, which created a firestorm," she shared, adding: "I want women to know that they are more than their breasts, and that beauty doesn't necessarily mean symmetry... I think that one of the reasons this happened to me is so that I could have life experiences and then share them with people."
She continues: "I don't think that I was put on the planet randomly. I think that I was put on the planet to have life experiences, and then write and speak and blab about them. And I did a lot of writing and speaking and storytelling and stand-up comedy about my journey with cancer, and that's -- the laughter was so healing, as well. A lot of people were so jarred by it, including the doctor who first told me the diagnosis. Because people are saying, 'How could you joke and laugh about that?' and my response is, 'How can I not? If I don't, then I really will die.' If I act like this is so serious and dire... So, I just decided that I was going to die eventually, but not from this. Not now, and not from this."
Whang was born in Arlington, Virginia, where she became the valedictorian of her graduating class at Herndon High School. She went on to earn a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Master's Degree in cognitive psychology at Brown University. Her career blossomed from there, with titles that included actress, television host, stand-up comedian, published author, professional keynote speaker, radio host, spoken word artist, teacher, metaphysical minister, and political activist.
Though she is probably best known as the host of HGTV's House Hunters from 1999 to 2007 and its spin-off House Hunters International from 2009 until 2012, she has many other television credits. Daytime fans will remember her as GH's Carol Chang, which she played in 2011. But she also had a recurring role on NBC's Las Vegas from 2005 to 2008. It was on that show that she met former GH megastar Vanessa Marcil (ex-Brenda Barrett). The two became good friends, with Whang becoming the godmother of Marcil's son, Kassius. Marcil honored her friend (whom she calls Bunny) on Instagram with several photos of her, including one with Kassius.
"There was not a person alive that bunny loved more than her baby sister Julie, her beautiful mother and father, her nieces, nephews and her godson. As she always said, 'Friends and lovers will come and go but family is forever,'" Marcil shares. "We pray for her family today and everyday now as life on this earth will never be the same again. Bunny..."
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There was not a person alive that bunny loved more than her baby sister Julie, her beautiful mother and father, her nieces, nephews and her godson. As she always said, "friends and lovers will come and go but family is forever" We pray for her family today and everyday now as life on this earth will never be the same again. Bunny...
Whang spoke of her friendship with Marcil during a 2014 conversation with Kroll Call. "We became best friends on the set of NBC's Las Vegas. She was a series regular, and I was supposed to come on and do one tiny, funny part, and because she is who she is, she had talked to me before we did our short scene and found out that I was a stand-up comic, and we really had an affinity for each other, which I thought she had with everybody. And then, after we were done shooting the scene, she says to the director, 'Hey, Suzanne's a stand-up comic. Why don't you give her a free take? Let her improvise a take for the scene.' And he said, 'Oh! Okay.' And so, I'm thinking, 'Wait. What's happening right now? The beautiful female star of this show is letting me be even funnier on the show?' That just does not happen in my experience in Los Angeles.'"
She continued, "So, he says, 'Sure, great. Go for it.' So, I proceed to go on this crazy diatribe. I play this character named Polly, who is the spa manager, manicurist, massage therapist for the Montecito Hotel and Casino that James Caan's character owned. And my character is very inappropriate and outrageous and overtly sexual. So, I just went nuts, and by the end of it, the crew guys were standing on their feet, clapping and cheering, and people were crying from laughing so hard. And because of that experience, Vanessa got it in her head that I should become a recurring character. So, unbeknownst to me, the next day, after I left the set, she kept thinking of ways and going to the writers saying, 'This is where Polly would be great in this episode, and in this scene,' and next thing you know, four seasons later, I've been a recurring guest star all because of her."
And, Whang shared, her role as a zany wedding planner on GH also came about because of her friendship with Marcil. "The way I got the part on General Hospital, when Vanessa returned as Brenda, was because she thought, 'Well, who would be a better psycho wedding planner for Sonny and Brenda's wedding than Suzanne?!"
In addition to Marcil, Whang had many loyal and loving friends, as well as a devoted partner, Jeff Vezain. Following the actress's death, Vezain shared an emotional message on her Facebook page. "A lifetime of love, adventure, humor and bliss now lives in our memories," he wrote. "On Tuesday evening around 7:20pm, Suzanne breathed her last breath here at home, as I knelt beside her and caressed her. For thirteen years she confronted cancer with courage, humor, determination and optimism. She was immensely encouraged by the love of her family, friends and those she had yet to meet. Your kind, loving messages always lifted her spirits."
Vezain shared that Whang would prefer that her life be celebrated instead of her passing mourned, but that she also "vehemently" disagreed with anyone being told they shouldn't cry. "So...cry if you will. I've been crying a LOT!" he wrote. "And laughing...and everything in between. It's all part of life, but laughter was a staple of our dynamic. Her audacious sense of humor blessed many, shocked a few, but allowed us to laugh in the face of adversity."
Vezain asked fans for their prayers and thoughts for Whang's loved ones, adding, "We have appreciated all of the kind words and memories shared on her Facebook page. It has brought much comfort."
Whang was reportedly writing a book about her experiences before she died. She is survived by Vezain, her parents, and a sister.
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