December 1, 2009 – Ramses Shaffy was born in Paris on August 29th 1933 in the suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. His father was an Egyptian diplomat and his mother was a Polish-Russian countess. He grew up with his mother in Cannes. When she was infected with tuberculosis, Shaffy was sent to an aunt in Utrecht in the Netherlands and eventually ended up in a foster family in the city of Leiden.
He did not finish high school, but he was accepted at the Amsterdam school of theatre arts in 1952. In 1955, he made his debut with the Nederlandse Comedie. He went to Rome’s Civitavecchia in 1960 aspiring to be a film actor, but was unsuccessful in the endeavor.
Back in Amsterdam in the 1960s, Shaffy had a relationship with Dutch actor Joop Admiraal (1937–2006) and in 1964 he founded Shaffy Chantant, a theatre group, which led to his first collaborations with chanseuse Liesbeth List. He worked with Dutch pianist Louis van Dijk. Among others, Thijs van Leer was a member of the group for a short period of time before he formed the sensational band FOCUS. With Liesbeth List, Shaffy recorded the classic song “Pastorale”.
Ramses became very popular as a singer in the 1960s in Amsterdam’s inner circles. His most noted compositions include Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder/Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire – We zullen doorgaan/We will go on; Pastorale/Sammy; and Laat me/Leave me be.
He was notorious for heavy drinking binges and temporarily stopped his habit when he became a member of the Rajneesh movement in the 1980s. The year he also returned to the stage. In 1993 he played Don Quixote in the musical De Man van La Mancha (The man from La Mancha). Film maker Pieter Fleury made a documentary about him in 2002, titled Ramses, which won a Golden Calf, the award of the Netherlands Film Festival.
As one of the quintessential legends of lifestyle and liberty in the 1960s in Amsterdam, he sadly lost his fight with esophageal cancer on Dec 1, 2009. RIP Ramses – I knew you well in those days, now 50 years ago.