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Reference > Erinsborough News > Neighbours Star's Tortured Life

The acting world has been shocked and saddened by the sudden, tragic death of Francis Bell, one of its most respected and beloved members...

When former Neighbours star Francis Bell plunged to his death from the top of an 11-storey block of council flats in Auckland last week, he had been battling severe depression for more than a month.

The entertainment industry is in shock at the loss of the talented actor, who was much sought-after for both films and television after hitting the heights as the irascible plumber Max Ramsay in Neighbours until he quit the show in 1986.

Confirming Francis, 50, had recently been in hospital, the star’s agent in New Zealand Graham Dunster says: “Francis was an eccentric genius who didn’t always fit in, but I think he was the most talented male actor this country has ever produced. He could get into a role at the drop of a hat.” Graham maintains he had “a close professional association” with the actor “and he confided in me, but not everything.”

“Even when he was depressed, which was for about the last month, he was still turning work away. But he had been looking more into himself.”

Dasha Blahova, who played his on-screen wife Maria in Neighbours, was also shocked to learn of his death. “I’d been thinking about him and wondering what he was doing,” Dasha says. “I hadn’t seen Francis since we met up at a Neighbours celebration party.”

“I think the industry should be more supportive for the people in it. I don’t know what was going on in Francis’ head – maybe it was a mid-life crisis – but it is a sad comment on this industry. He was quite intense, creative. Perhaps he wanted more from life than calls from his agent.”

Dasha says Francis was never afraid to speak his mind. “Francis was not a person who would say yes. He would always try to make something better. He would discover mistakes in a script and want them fixed. Maybe that’s called difficult, but he brought a special quality to his work.”

Apart from his role in Neighbours, Francis had appeared in The Sullivans, Cop Shop, Carson’s Law, Special Squad and the mini-series Anzacs with Paul Hogan. In 1986, the year he quit Neighbours, he married Monica Dare, the Swedish-born designed with whom he had been in what he described as “a fairly volatile relationship” for five years.

“I decided I couldn’t live without her, so I’m just going to have to learn to live with her,” Francis said when he announced his plans to marry, admitting he’d had his share of ups and downs in his domestic life as well as on screen.

But the marriage was short-lived and the couple separated about six months later. Francis then returned to New Zealand where he appeared in many locals series and films.

Police have said there were “no suspicious circumstances” in the case of Francis’ death.

A resident of the multi-storey council flats, where the actor’s body was found in the car park, has told New Idea: “He apparently caught a cab from Auckland Hospital. I believe he left his jacket in the cab and hurried into the apartment block.” The building’s caretaker says that when he saw Francis in the foyer, the former Neighbours star seemed “agitated.” “He was looking around and I asked him if he was after the lifts. I showed him where they were and he thanked me and started pressing the buttons.”

Meanwhile, the residents of the building from which Francis plunged to his death are concerned at the number of people who have reportedly committed suicide after climbing onto the roof. One tenant told New Idea that scrawled on the fence in the roof is the sad message: “Why was I born?… Help me, someone!”

This article originally appeared in New Idea magazine, dated 14th May 1994, and was written by Patrice Fidgeon and Brenda Ward

Article submitted by Steve


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