As queen of the Canto-pop scene in the 1980s, Anita Mui Yim-fong was the whole package. She was an accomplished singer, who got her professional start at the age of eight, and an actress who could play the whole spectrum of characters, from compassionate housewife to high-class courtesan, from ruthless double agent to comic foil. No one since has been able to duplicate Mui's crossover success or her larger-than-life off-screen persona. Mui, who died of cervical cancer early yesterday, will be missed. Part of Mui's appeal was a certain directness, lack of snobbery and even a touch of tragedy. She changed her image and her stage act frequently, often projecting a frankly sexual persona - Bad Girl, her breakout hit, was banned from some radio programmes. After she found mainstream success sparked by winning a TVB-sponsored singing contest in 1982 - at the age of 18 - Mui escaped her humble beginnings and lived in the limelight. She used her fame to raise money and awareness for her favourite causes, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and the nursing home that bears her name. The Hong Kong media's coverage of her unsuccessful romances and her colleagues' personal lives led Mui to periodically attack the press for being overzealous in its search for a story. She was also fearless in speaking out against triad influence in the entertainment industry. During her lifetime, Mui openly admitted that loneliness was one of her greatest fears. In a book published after her September revelation about having cancer, the 40-year-old, never-married Mui wrote about her fight against the disease and how she had given up on finding love. In her final concert appearance, only last month, she left the stage in a wedding dress, walking down a red-carpeted aisle. What was it about Mui that had people so captivated and why is her passing such a milestone? She did have talent and an undeniable stage presence. More than that, her rise to fame through her ability - and nothing else - was one of many rags-to-riches stories that confirmed Hong Kong as a land of opportunity for the talented. Her climb to stardom also mirrored the emergence of Hong Kong as an affluent society, whose music and film industries played a significant role in defining what it means to be a Hong Kong person. It was not only local audiences who appreciated the Hong Kong sound in the Cantonese dialect - audiences throughout China and overseas were beginning to also. Her songs such as Breaking Through Ice Mountain, Bad Girl and Time Flows Like Water are classics around which people have built their personal memories. Many of the movies Mui appeared in were defining films of their genres, and she held her own against the industry's greatest talents. Rouge was a moody ghost epic that paired her with an equally gifted Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing - and won her a Golden Horse award for best actress. Drunken Master II was an instant classic that put zany comic antics together with martial arts choreography, a combination that has been a hallmark for co-star Jackie Chan. If these years represented the flowering of creativity and commercial success for the industry, Mui, with her versatility and box-office cachet, deserves some of the credit. Mui's death comes after the loss of singing idol Roman Tam Pak-sin last year, fellow singer-actor Cheung in April and lyricist Lam Chun-keung last month. Next to the wit and soul of that generation, many of today's younger singers and actors will inevitably seem less impressive. With the passing of these entertainment legends, 2003 will be remembered as the end of an era.