Famous Malaysian People: Malaysian Artists, Scientists, Leaders, Musicians, Politicians and Athletes
In this Country Profile
The following people made their mark on both the local and international scenes. They are just some of many famous Malaysians who have lifted Malaysia’s name worldwide and made a difference in our world. Their purpose and stories inspired awe if not greatness.
:: List of Famous People from Malaysia ::
Dato’ Michelle Yeoh
She is Malaysia’s number one export. She used to be credited as Michelle Khan because her studio thought that this will be more marketable for the western audiences. She later decided to use her real name, Michelle Yeoh Choo-Keng, shortened to Michelle Yeoh. Ms. Yeoh was born in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia but is now based in Hong Kong. She is famous for performing her own stunts in her action films. Her most memorable films are Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), a James Bond film and the winner of multiple Academy Awards, the Chinese wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). For this film alone Ms. Yeoh had several award nominations as Best Actress at the 54th British Academy Film Awards, 20th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 37th Golden Horse Awards, 2000. She received the Best Actress award for the film from the Toronto Film Critics’ Association Awards 2000.
He is a fashion icon from Penang, Malaysia and adored the world over. Based in London, Dato’ Jimmy Choo who was born as Choo Yeang Keat, came from a family of shoemakers. Mr. Choo’s family name is actually Chow, but was misspelled on his birth certificate. He made his first pair of shoes at age 11. He went to England to pursue his studies at the Cordwainers Technical College, working part time as a cleaner at a shoe factory and at restaurants to earn funds for his studies.
He opened his workshop in Hackney, North London in 1986. Ten years later he co-founded the Jimmy Choo Ltd. with the accessories editor of British Vogue, Tamara Mellon. His shop became famous for creating beautifully handmade women’s shoes. His craftsmanship and innovative designs were so well-received that they earned him an eight-page feature in Vogue magazine in 1988. He was brought to international fame when it became known that his shoes were patronized by the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Jimmy Choo is now concentrating on his exclusive Jimmy Choo Couture line after selling 50 percent of his stake in Jimmy Choo Ltd. From creating some of the world’s most expensive shoes to exclusive clothing line, the company has expanded to include handbags in their ready-to-wear line. He plans to set up a shoemaking institute in Malaysia for budding shoemakers and designers.
She’s a widely popular Malaysian singer who was born Shaheila binti Abdul Majid. Her name was shortened to Sheila Majid. She hails from Kuala Lumpur. Ms. Majid is a multi-awarded R&B singer, and has released 8 studio albums, 4 singles, and 7 compilations and has performed and recorded several albums with other artists. She also released several albums in Indonesia, Japan and the United Kingdom and has performed in various concerts in Malaysia and abroad.
She won America’s International Star Search Award for Best Female Vocalist in 1986, She was the first Malaysian artist to break into the Japan market in 1990 with her single, Sinaran and two of her albums, Emosi and Warna and holds the distinction of being the first Malaysian to hold a solo show at London’s West End at the Royalty Theatre in 1996.
Ling Tan was considered as the first internationally recognized Asian supermodel in the world during the time when Asian models were virtually nonexistent in the Western fashion industry. Ling Tan’s career as an international fashion model was launched by Malaysian fashion designer Zhang Toi. Ms. Tan was born in 1974 in Kuala Lumpur of Malaysian and Chinese descent. When she was still actively modeling she has signed with prestigious agencies like IMG of New York, Riccardo Gay of Milan and Elite of Paris. She appeared in several ad campaigns for international beauty products and clothes by international designers such as Emporo Armani, Bruno Magli, Guess, Old Navy and Banana Republic, which were previously modeled by Caucasian. She recently came out of retirement to model for the Fall 2010/Winter 2011 Paris Fashion Week for Givenchy.
The fashion and movie industry denizens became obsessed with pouty lips and Malaysia has its own fashion model whose most defining feature were her lips, which were like that of Angelina Jolie’s in Amber Chia. Amber was born in Ipoh but spent her growing up years in Tawau, a city in Sabah, East Malaysia. She started modeling at age 17 back in Kuala Lumpur and rose to fame when she became a finalist in the Guess Watch’s band Ambassador – Timeless Beauty Contest in 2004. Ms. Chia was later voted as Model of the Year in 2004 and 2005 by the Malaysian International Fashion Awards. She created controversy when she posed for the Indonesian version of Playboy Magazine although all she was fully-clothed in all her pictures. She is still active as a model. She recently gave birth to her first son and had opened her own modeling academy.
Singer-actor Nicolas Teo is Penang’s green ambassador to spread awareness on the increasing number of environmental issue. Teo was selected by the state government due to his wide fan-base in his home country and the Asean region. Nicolas Teo was born Zhang Dong Liang. He also goes by the name Nicolas Zhang. Although he is currently based in Taiwan he was born in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysia.
He was studying in Taiwan when he was voted as the best singer in a competition among all of Taiwan’s universities and was approached to sign up with a record company as a backup singer. He went back to Malaysia without finishing his studies and competed in the 2002 Astro Talent Quest where he won first place. And as they say, the rest is history. He first signed up with Music Street/Warner Music and is currently a recording artist of Singapore-based Musicstreet.Pte’s Play Music. He has released 6 albums, 2 EPs, 2 drama OSTs and has appeared in Taiwan dramas Smiling Pasta and Invincible Shan Bao Mei and Four Gifts. Teo has also appeared in several movies and received many nominations and awards for his music and have endorsed several popular products. He is fluent in Mandarin, English, Malay, Cantonese and Hokkien.
Siti Nurhaliza is a very popular Malaysian, pop, soft rock and R&B singer. She is a songwriter, record producer and television presenter. And she is also a well-respected business woman. Siti’s grandfather, her parents and her siblings are also musical artists. She started her amateur singing career quite early, learning traditional music from her mother when she was 12. She used to join her uncle in weddings and local ceremonies to give her the right exposure on how to perform in front of live audiences. When she was 16 she competed in the 1995 RTM Bintang HMI competition where she met a music composer who helped her with her vocal performance. She won and from then on her musical career took off to a flying start. She had a contract with a record company, released several albums, had various performances locally and internationally and won about 200 local and international awards. Her accomplishments make for a very long list.
She is the only Malaysian artist who has won several times in local music awards – Anugerah Industri Muzik awards (34), Amugerah Bintang Popular awards (22), Anugerah Planet Muzik awards (20), Anugerah Juara Lagu awards (18) and MTV Asia awards (4). She also holds 2 records in the Malaysia Book of Records for her achievements in the field of music and is currently listed as one of the richest, most influential, and the artist with the most awards as well as one of the most single-produced artists in Malaysia.
Datuk Dr. Sheik Muszaphar Shukor
Datuk Dr. Sheik Muszaphar Shukor is an orthopedic surgeon by profession and a member of the faculty of medicine at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He is also a part-time model. The good-looking surgeon was born in Kuala Lumpur and rose to fame because he was the first Malaysian to go to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-11 together with the Expedition 16 crew on October 10, 2007 and returned to Earth after 11 days in space.
He made the final selection after months of training for the space voyage because of his participation in the Angkasawan program, an agreement between Russia and Malaysia and is part of the multi-billion contract to buy 18 Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighter jets.
He conducted experiments on the characteristics and growth of liver cancer and leukemia cells as well as the crystallization of various microbes and proteins aboard the space station. As his space flight coincided with the Ramadan, a guide book on how to perform Islamic rites while in space was written by the Islamic National Fatwa Council.
Nicol Ann David
If you follow sports news and play squash, then the name Nicol Ann David will ring a bell. Currently she is the world number one women’s squash player and the first ever Asian to garner this position. She is also the first squash player to win the World Junior title two times, the first in 1999 and again in 2001. In 2005, 2006 and 2008, she held the British Open title, while in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, she is the holder of the World Open title.
She was born in Penang and now resides in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She was conferred the Order of Merit (Darjah Bakti) during the birthday of His Majesty Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin on June 7, 2008, making her the first recipient of the award since it was established on June 26, 1975. She was appointed the UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for Malaysia and was invited to carry the Olympic Torch for Malaysia during the build up for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Nicol David holds a record for winning the Asian Squash Championships eight times in 1998, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, held the WISPA Player of the Year from 2005 to 2010 and had a 13-month, 51-match winning streak from March 2006 up to April 2007.
Lee Chong Wei
Lee Chong Wei is not a stranger in the badminton circle especially in Asia. Born on October 21, 1982, the 28-year old from Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia plays professional badminton. He was the first Malaysian to make it to the finals of the men’s singles event in Olympic competition, winning the silver medal in 2008 and ending Malaysia’s lack of Olympic medals since 1996. He was conferred the designation of Datuk and named as a national hero by the incumbent Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Tun Razak.
Lee Chong Wei was ranked first in the world as a singles player on the 21st of August 2008, and followed the footsteps of Rashid Sidek and Roslin Hashim, being the third badminton player in Malaysia to achieve this honor. He has the distinction of being the only professional badminton player in Malaysia to keep the title for over 2 weeks. Lee is still pursuing his dream of winning the gold medal in the Asian Games, World Championship and in the Olympics.
Talented fashion designer Bernard Chandran holds the honor of having Malaysia’s who’s who and members of royalty in Malaysia and Brunei as his faithful clients. Two former Miss Universe also favor his creations. From being dubbed the Prince of Fashion in Malaysia, his position has been elevated and he is now hailed as the King of Fashion is his home country. He received his education from the prestigious Paris American Academy.
Bernard Chandran is the chief designer of Project Runway Malaysia since the reality TV show debuted on August 3, 2007. He was a guest judge on Episode 12 of Britain’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6 where the top three models were chosen to participate in his fashion show in London.
In 1991 he became the first non-European and the first Malaysian to win the Open European Contest for Look of the Year 2000. Chandran received the 2003 award for Designer of the Year by the Malaysian International Fashion Awards, and the Malaysian International Fashion Alliance awarded him with the Special Achievement Award in 2009. He received his Datuk title in 2006 when Sultan Ahmad Shah Sultan Abu Bakar, the Sultan of Pahang awarded him with the Seri Indera Mahkota Pahang (SIMP).
International celebrities have worn Chandran’s creations in many occasions. Some of his clients are Estelle, Lady Gaga, Little Boots, Rihanna and Tori Amos. He designed all the 15 gowns Tori Amos will wear on her latest concert, according to the interview he had with Korean press on April 2011.
Robert Kuok is listed as number 33 in the world billionaires list for 2010 by Forbes.com. with an estimated net worth of $12.5 billion as of March 2011, making him the richest Malaysian. Robert Kuok is a self-made billionaire born in Johor Baru, Johor, Malaysia currently residing in Hong Kong. He was once a rice and sugar trader and has been hailed as the Sugar King of Asia. He is now the head of the multinational Kuok Group with various interests in real estate, shipping and media. Robert Kuok is currently the Chairman of Shangri-la Hotel and Resort chain. His Kuok Group also has interests in sugarcane plantations and refineries, flour milling as well as in animal feed, palm oil, mining and finance. He’s very discreet and media-shy and privately holds most of his businesses or by members of his family. He has been married twice and has eight children.
His full name is Anthony Francis Fernandes, and entrepreneur born in Kuala Lumpur. His mother was of Malacca Portuguese descent while his father was an Indian Goan. Tony Fernandes has many achievements but his most notable achievement is in founding Tune Air Sdn. Bhd. introducing the first budget airline to Malaysia, AirAsia. AirAsia was formerly a government-linked commercial airline which was rescued by Tony Fernandes. It soon became a successful public-listed company. Tony Fernandes was also credited for leading the lobbying with former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to have an open skies agreement with Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.
He was educated in England and worked for a while with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Records before becoming the youngest managing director of Warner Music back in Malaysia.
His Tune Corp. company introduced Asia’s first budget hotel, Tune Hotel and also the principal in Team Lotus, which raced in the 2010 Formula One season. His team will also participate in the 2011 season. It was announced last April 27, 2011 that Team Lotus Enterprise owned by Tony Fernandes has purchased Caterham Cars, a race and sports car manufacturer in the UK.
The achievements of Tony Fernandes earned him several finance and entrepreneurship awards and recognition and he has been conferred the title of Tan Sri, Dato’ Sri by the King of Malaysia. He was also given the Legion d’Honneur Order by France and the order of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his efforts in promoting educational and commercial links between the two countries.
Top celebrities like Sharon Stone, Patti LaBelle, Ivana Trump, Kelly Preston, Jennifer Tilly, Fergie of Black Eyed Peas, Kirstie Alley and Meg Ryan have all worn some of Zhang Toi’s collection. Zhang Toi is a Malaysian fashion designer born in Kelantan, and became famous for his bright collections of sarongs, regal dresses and strong suits. He went to Toronto when he was 18 and moved to New York at age 19. He attended the Parsons School of Design and opened his own atelier by 1989.
Awards came quickly to this famous Malaysian fashion icon. He won the Mouton-Cadet Young Designers Award in 1991 at the age of 30. For his artistic contributions and achievements he was presented by the New York Public Advocate Mark J. Green with an award of distinction. Zhang Toi was also a recipient of the Award of Excellence from the International Center in New York. He was also awarded a knighthood in March 1997 from the Sultan of Kelantan.
Pua Khein Seng
Did you know that the very handy external storage disk you know today was invented by a Malaysian? According to some media rumors, Pua Khein Seng, who hails from Sekinchan, Selangor was refused a seat at a local university in Malaysia and he sailed to Taiwan to get his degree in Electrical Control Engineering from Chiao Tung University. Rumors also mentioned that his proposal for a pen drive or USB flash memory was rejected by Malaysian authorities. He was offered to stay for his Masters after completing his undergraduate study. After finishing his Masters in 1999 he worked for six months in a company in Taiwan before starting his own company together with his fellow engineers from Chiao Tung University – three Taiwanese and 2 Malaysian engineers. They were around 27 years of age at that time.
They set up the Phison Electronics Corporation in Taiwan in November 2000 and started working on their first invention, the Pen Drive or more popularly known today as a USB memory stick, flash drive or thumb drive. They were the first company in the world to develop the USB technology; the chips needed for it and the final product and launched it in 2001. The company is now worth $31 billion. Mr. Pua said he plans to establish a branch in Malaysia.
Anwar bin Ibrahim
Anwar bin Ibrahim served as Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia for five years, from 1993 to 1988. From being the founding leader of Angkatan Belua Islam Malaysia, a youth Islamic organization, he joined the United Malays National Organization led by Mahathir bin Mohamad and became close to the future Prime Minister. When Mahathir bin Mohamad became Prime Minister, Anwar bin Ibrahim was favored and moved up the political ranks rather quickly. He became the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports in 1983, the head of the agriculture ministry by 1984 and the education ministry by 1986. By 1991 he was the Minister of Finance in 1991. His appointment as Deputy Prime Minister was rife with rumors of Anwar bin Mahathir spending large amounts of cash to win support for his appointment. Conflicting views how to properly govern the country led to a falling out between the two and Anwar became the biggest critic of the Prime Minister.
Anwar was sentenced in 1996 to six years imprisonment for corruption and in 2000 was accused of sodomy and sentenced to another nine years. The decision was reversed by the Federal Court and he was released in 2004 but was again arrested for alleged sodomy of one of his aides in July 2008. He won the re-election in August 26, 2008 and became the leader of the Malaysian opposition in Parliament.