Nearly 100 members of Orange County's Cambodian community on Thursday honored Haing S. Ngor, who was slain outside his Los Angeles home, for helping to bring the plight of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge to worldwide attention.
Ngor, 55, was shot to death Feb. 25 as he got out of his car. The killer remains unidentified.
At a memorial service at Cambodian Family Inc., an education and resource center, Cambodian Americans remembered the Oscar-winning actor Thursday for his contributions.
"We admire him for everything he did for the Cambodian community," said organizer Heat Leao. "We are very sad at the loss of this man."
After spending four years in a Khmer Rouge concentration camp, Ngor immigrated to the United States, where he became active in Cambodian refugee issues. A trained physician, Ngor captured international fame when he won an Oscar for his performance in "The Killing Fields," a film depicting the massacre of Cambodians under the Pol Pot regime from 1975 to 1979.
For many, Ngor was a role model.
"He was a great figure for our youth," said Santa Smith of Tustin, who emigrated from Cambodia in 1975.
At the memorial, photos of a tuxedo-clad Ngor at the 1985 Academy Awards ceremony hung on a podium. Donations were collected for Ngor's nonprofit foundation for children, Sam Nang, and four monks from a local Buddhist temple led the audience in prayer.
"For many of us who did not live through [this period in] Cambodia, Haing Ngor helped us understand your story," said Rifka Hirsch, executive director of the Cambodian Family center. "He helped bring what was in your heart and your memory to the world. For that, the world has very much to thank him."
Monk Soyudh Jenlar said Ngor was the voice of Cambodians who suffered through the killing fields.
"Nobody knew about the suffering except the Cambodian people," said Jenlar, who was captured and narrowly escaped being killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers before escaping to Thailand in the early 1970s. "He showed the world how bad the Communists were. Today we join together to celebrate his soul and to make a dedication to his memory."
The monks in saffron robes and the worshipers chanted in Pali, a 2,500-year-old Buddhist language, honoring Ngor's life and the transferring of his soul to nirvana.
"He was loved by Cambodians young and old," said speaker David Poeung. "He never forgot his roots. Mr. Haing Ngor, I am sorry that you are no longer here, but your soul and spirit are with us. Goodbye Mr. Haing Ngor."
Ngor's funeral and memorial service will be held today at the Chung Wah Funeral Home in Los Angeles.