They say fame is fickle. If there was ever any doubt, just ask former Hollywood Disney A-lister, Rafiki, star of 90s box-office smash and children’s favourite – The Lion King.
In the movie, Rafiki plays a scatty mandrill, mentor to young lion cub, Simba. He advises Simba on his journey towards becoming king of his pride, and restoring the circle of life to his endangered homelands. But the movie business is as harsh and unforgiving as the African Savanna. One minute you are riding high, a star! Your name in lights, a VIP guest at the Oscars. Next, you are living in a hole in the ground in a poorly-maintained backyard shelter in Ipswich, England.
Riches to rags
Rafiki’s story is a sad, yet all too common tale of booze, birds, and bad behaviour. After the heydays of the Lion King and its follow-up. The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Rafiki’s career hit the skids. Typecast as he was (there are only so many cartoon Mandrill roles in Hollywood), the movie offers dried up. A few TV appearances and a failed attempt at a pop career (a drum’n’bass version of ‘I Wan’na Be like You (The Monkey Song)’ which peaked at 71 on the Billboard chart) led to controversy after controversy as the substance-powered downward spiral took hold, followed by the inevitable fall from grace.
The final straw for his once adoring public was when cops discovered him high as a kite, trying to break into the Lions’ enclosure at Los Angeles zoo in search of, in his words “Simba’s millions”, a reference to the disparity between the wealth and success of his old co-star and his own dire straits. Rafiki had hit rock bottom.
Watership Down but not out
Fortunately, a fellow actor, UK animal movie veteran, Hazel (Watership Down) had heard about Rafiki’s plight. Hazel had also struggled after his initial fame. Booze, tax problems and a nasty brush with Myxomatosis left him penniless and living in a shelter (hutch) for struggling cartoon animal actors in Ipswich, UK.
Kind-hearted Hazel, reached out to Rafiki and invited him to come to the Suffolk and join the collective of other 1970’s cartoon actors who had hit hard times, Rupert Bear, Captain Pugwash, and Mr Ben among them. The reclusive community of cartoon has-beens has little contact with the outside world, and survives on only occasional royalty cheques stemming from their past glories.
We asked Rafiki for comment and received the following short, but poignant reply: