STEPHEN Cheong Kam-chuen was an idiosyncratic figure who attracted as much criticism as praise in a political life which lasted more than a decade. And he knew it himself. ''I am a controversial figure. Many people hate me,'' he admitted in his last interview with the South China Morning Post given just two weeks ago. When asked if he would stand for direct Legco elections in 1995, he flatly replied: ''Never.'' Mr Cheong, aged 51, who stood unopposed for all his three terms as the Legco functional constituency representative for the Federation of Hongkong Industries, said if he really wanted to stay in the legislature, he would find the safest way to get intoit. ''And, to me, the safest way is not to go for direct elections,'' said the veteran legislator, who first joined the Legislative Council 13 years ago as an appointed member and had become the second most senior legislator. But Mr Cheong, a core member of the fledging Liberal Party, told the Post two weeks ago that he had yet to make up his mind whether to fight for another term in 1995, or whether he would opt for the federation's seat or a place on the Election Committee. Nor could he offer predictions on the outcome of the Sino-British talks. ''I can't see through it,'' he said. ''Mr Patten is so unpredictable. I have given up guessing what he thinks.'' Born on May 31, 1941, Mr Cheong said he used to be a devout Catholic in his teens, and that he had even wanted to be a priest. He was the eldest child as well as the only son of his parents, and had eight younger sisters. He studied at the famous La Salle College before gaining bachelor and master degrees in engineering after studying at Imperial College, London. The 80s marked his rise from an industrialist who inherited his family business to a political high-flier. He was appointed a legislator in 1980, and soon formed a clique with his long-time partner Mr Allen Lee Peng-fei and Mrs Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee. Their aggressive style and frequent exposure in the media irked the appointed legislators of the older generation. He was at that time regarded as an ambitious, talented budding star at Upper Albert Road. Mr Cheong was the first of the three to come to believe Hongkong's destiny was hinged inseparably with China. But his ''prophetic vision'', together with his iconoclastic personality, cost him a seat on the highest policy-making body - the Executive Council. Mr Lee and Mrs Chow were appointed in 1985 and 1991 respectively. The announcement that he had been left out of Exco while his close allies had been allowed in was an obvious disappointment to him. Cracks emerged in his relationship with Mr Lee at that time especially over their views on the future of Hongkong politics. They co-founded a think-tank - the Hongkong Foundation - in May 1989. But Mr Lee left it in 1990. Mr Lee regarded the Foundation as an embryo of a political party yet-to-come. Mr Cheong instead wanted the foundation to emerge as an academic, prominent think-tank organisation which could help Hongkong people understand China better. Mr Cheong did not believe in party politics until very recently when he joined up with Mr Lee once more to organise the Liberal Party. Explaining his low-key performance in the past two years, Mr Cheong said recently that it was time for him to give more opportunities to younger politicians. In front of reporters, he praised the performance of Mr James To Kun-sun, a young member of the rival camp, the United Democrats of Hongkong (UDHK), despite the fact that he had always been a vocal critic of the UDHK. His remark in early 1992 that Hongkong would be in a state of anarchy unless something was done to change the position of the United Democrats caused a furore. He said the administration's efficiency had been harmed by a party determined to frustrate government policies not in line with their own platform. The industrialist will also be remembered for his emotional acts. Twice he burst into tears in public. He wept at a press conference in 1988 when the Executive Council turned down his plan to hold a world exposition in Hongkong in 1997. ''My wife said I was stupid to have cried. I told her that's human,'' he said at the time. In 1990, he was reduced to tears a second time while speaking in support of Mr Lee's motion which expressed dissatisfaction at the Basic Law's provisions for the future political system. Explaining later why he cried, Mr Cheong said: ''Maybe that is a weakness of my character. I felt so deeply about Hongkong that it just overcame me.'' Saying he was spending 80 per cent of his time on Legco business, Mr Cheong was not a politician whom reporters could easily catch in his office or expect to return calls. But he appeared every now and then in the Legco building, speaking to reporters in the corridor, or helping Legco press officers receive phone calls in their offices. Sometimes you could spot him singing karaoke at various big social functions. Dubbed the King of Karaoke, Mr Cheong's last song was Unchained Melody which he sang at the Hongkong Journalists' Association's Jubilee Ball before his fatal collapse. He is survived by four sons, the eldest of whom married in 1991. Apart from being managing director of his family business, Lee Wah Weaving Factory, Mr Cheong also held directorships in a string of public companies. His background as an industrialist put him in the forefront of Hongkong's fight for the unconditional renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation trading status and a number of other trade issues. It might also have led him adopt a pragmatic and non-confrontational attitude towards China, which finally earned him a title as one of the Hongkong Affairs Advisers. Mr Cheong had a long history of public service, including chairmanship of the council of the Hongkong Polytechnic, the Vocational Training Council and the Hongkong Industrial Estates Corporation Board.