Mui once held a sold-out concert in Hammersmith, London, England, where she was dubbed the "Madonna of Asia" (東方麥當娜), which brought her to further international fame. That title stayed with her throughout her career, and has been used as a comparison for both Eastern and Western media.
In the 1980s, the gangtai style of music was revolutionised by Mui's wild dancing and on-stage femininity. She was famed for her outrageous costumes and high-power performances in combination with contralto vocals, which are rare in female artists.
Her fan base reached far beyond Hong Kong into many parts of Asia, including Taiwan, mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia, and other countries as well. In the Hong Kong entertainment industry, where stars often rise and fall quickly, Mui remained in the spotlight for 21 years (1982–2003). Her career came to a halt abruptly in 2003 when she announced that she had cervical cancer. She died later that year at the age of 40.
Mui experienced much hardship in her childhood. She was the youngest daughter in a family of four children. Her elder sister, Ann Mui, was also a singer. The children were raised in a single parent family. In some of her interviews, Mui mentioned that she had never met her father. This meant that she had to help provide for her siblings at an early age, dropping out of school at the age of 13 or 14. More hardship followed the family when the bar that her mother ran was destroyed by a fire. To earn a living, Mui entered the show business at around the age of four with her sister Ann. She performed Chinese operas and pop songs in theatres and on the streets. Both Mui and her elder sister Ann performed in practically any nightclub that offered them a chance to make a living.
At the age of 15, due to the frequency of performances at different venues (up to six venues per day) that she had, her voice was affected due to the development of nodules on her vocal chords. Following the advice of the doctor, she took a year off and to keep herself occupied, she attended art lessons with her cousin. After a year, she started performing again despite the change in her vocal range, which lowered her voice by an octave (eight keys).
In 1982, as encouraged by her sister, Mui competed in the first New Talent Singing Awards. It was there that Mui got a big break by emerging champion with the song "The Windy Season" (風的季節), originally sung by Paula Tsui, beating over 3,000 contestants. Despite her title as "new talent" at that time, she had already been a singer for more than 10 years from street and club performances during her childhood.
As an award to winning the New Talent contest at the time, Mui's first album was released with the local record company Capital Artists.
Her debut album, Debt Heart (心債), drew a lukewarm response from the audience. However, the subsequent album fared much better, as she developed her personal style and image. In 1983 and 1984, she won the RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs award back to back.
Her winning streak continued as she won another major award in 1985, her first top 10 Jade Solid Gold Best Female Singer award. Thereafter, she won the award every year until 1989. She was awarded the Gold Songs Gold Awards (金曲金獎) in 1989 for the song Sunset Melody (夕陽之歌), which became one of her signature songs throughout her career.
Mui released 50 albums in total. Her best selling album was the 1985 "Bad Girl" (壞女孩), which sold over 400,000 copies (platinum 8x by Hong Kong's standards). In her career, she sold 10 million albums. Hong Kong had a population of about only five million in the 1980s.
In terms of live performances, in 1985, at the age of 21, her first concert was held lasting 15 nights (thus being one of the youngest singers to hold a concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum). Beginning in late 1987, a series of 28 consecutive concerts at the Coliseum were held through early 1988. This established a record at the time and dubbed Mui the title of "Ever Changing Anita Mui" (百變梅艷芳), which had become her trademark. Her popularity was also gaining prominence outside of Hong Kong, as she was invited to sing at the 1988 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Seoul together with Janet Jackson. She performed in 300 concerts in her career.
In 1990, during the birthday celebration with the fan club, Mui announced that she would put an end to receiving music awards to give a chance to newcomers. She held farewell concerts for 33 consecutive nights before retiring from the stage. At the age of 28, she stepped down from the industry, only to return from retirement in 1994. Mui mentored several Hong Kong newcomer singers who have since become successful, most notably Andy Hui, Denise Ho, Edmond Leung, the band Grasshopper, as well as Patrick Tam.
In 1998, aged 35, she was awarded the RTHK Golden Needle Award, being one of the youngest recipients to receive the award as a lifetime achievement.
Mui was also well known as an actress across Asia. As she starred in more than 40 films over a 20-year period. Her films were mainly of the action-thriller and martial arts variety, but she had also taken comedic and dramatic roles.
Her first acting award as a supporting actress was won at the Hong Kong Film Awards for her performance in Behind the Yellow Line (1984). Three years later in 1987, her performance in Rouge won her the Best Actress at the Golden Horse Awards. In 1989, she was awarded the Best Actress for her role in Rouge at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
In 1993, she starred in The Heroic Trio with Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung, and it proved to be one of her most popular action films. In 1994 and 1995, she found some international recognition by starring opposite Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master and Rumble in the Bronx.
Later, in 1997, she also won another best supporting actress at Hong Kong Film Award for her role in Eighteen Springs. In 2002, she won Best Actress at the Changchun Film Festival Golden Deer Awards for Best Actress with her performance in July Rhapsody.
Mui was originally cast in Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers (2004), but she resigned only two weeks before her death. Zhang had reserved her scenes to be shot last due to her poor health. Out of respect for Mui, Zhang did not cast another actress in the role and the character was removed from the screenplay. She received a dedication titled In Memory of Anita Mui (謹以此電影緬懷梅艷芳小姐) during the closing credits.
Throughout her career, the tabloid magazines were unforgiving. Rumours never ceased to plague Mui, who was accused of being addicted to drugs, having tattoos on her arms, going for plastic surgery, being suicidal, being linked to the death of a triad leader in the 1980s and 1990s. Rumours of affairs with leading actors also circulated.
Mui was actively involved in charitable projects throughout her career. According to the posthumous memoirs of democracy activist Szeto Wah, Mui lent significant financial and material support to Operation Yellowbird, to help activists flee from China after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
The Tibetan red-crown Shamar Rinpoche once said "She had a true heart. She was an unconventional woman and brought happiness to lots of people during her life." Her establishment of a nursing home in San Francisco, prompted the mayor of the city in 1992 to name 18 April as "Anita Mui Day". In 1993, she established the "Anita Mui True Heart Charity Foundation" (梅艷芳四海一心基金會). That same year, she was also one of the founders of the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild. The Canadian city of Toronto declared 23 October 1993 to be "Anita Mui Day.
During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, she initiated a fund raising concert titled the 1:99 Concert to raise money for SARS-affected families. She was also awarded the "Fighting Against SARS Award" from RTHK and the newspaper Ming Pao. In 2003, she wrote and published the book The Heart of the Modern Woman (現代女人心). Profits from the book went to the Children's Cancer Foundation.
On 23 September 2004, the "Anita Mui True Heart Digital Multimedia Studio" was opened at the University of Hong Kong. It included state of the art equipment for digital audio and video editing. In Causeway Bay, an Anita Mui-themed cafe called "Happiness Moon" (囍月) is also dedicated to her legacy.
On 5 September 2003, Mui publicly announced that she had cervical cancer, from which her sister had also died. She held a series of eight shows at the Hong Kong Coliseum from 6-11 November and 14-15 November 2003, which were to be her last concerts before her death.
Her symbolic act was to "marry the stage", which was accompanied by her hit song "Sunset Melody" (夕陽之歌) as she exited the stage. The very last song she performed on stage was "Cherish When We Meet Again" (珍惜再會時), a rendition of The Manhattans' "Let's Just Kiss And Say Goodbye" on 15 November 2003, where she was accompanied by her friends on the stage. She eventually lost her battle to cervical cancer and died of respiratory complications leading to lung failure at Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital on 30 December 2003 at 02:50 (HK local time). She was 40 years old. Thousands of fans turned out for her funeral at North Point in January 2004.
In 1998, an ATV-produced television series Forever Love Song told a story of a character which was loosely based on that of Mui, but the character names were purposely changed. In 2007, a television series was produced in China titled Anita Mui Fei (梅艷芳菲) to tell the many dramas in her life. The 42 episode series was broadcast by China Education Television. Some subjects, such as her suffering from cancer, Cheung's suicide and her mother's real estate dilemma, were avoided. Alice Chan (陳煒) portrayed Mui in the series.
On 11 October 2008, a show on TVB, titled "Our Anita Mui" (我們的梅艷芳), was dedicated to Mui. Many fans and off-stage personnel who worked with her had a chance to talk about their personal experiences with Mui. Singers who participated in the show included Andy Hui, Edmond Leung and Stephanie Cheng. Mui was cremated and her ashes are interred at the Po Lin Monastery's mausoleum on Lantau Island.
On 18 July 2014, a statue of Anita Mui was unveiled on Hong Kong's Avenue of the Stars
In her will, Mui bequeathed two properties to her fashion designer, and the remainder to the Karen Trust – a trust she had set up and looked after by HSBC International Trustees. Its beneficiaries included her mother, Tam Mei-kam, and four nieces and nephews. The Karen Trust provided Tam with a life tenancy of HK$70,000 per month; upon Tam's death, the estate would go to the New Horizon Buddhist Association absolutely.
In 2005, Tam received a HK$705,000 lump-sum payment from the trust in May. She applied for and obtained a hardship grant to pay for medical expenditure of $50,000 in December; her application for funds from the estate to challenge the will was denied. In 2008, Mui's estate was estimated to be worth HK$100 million. Tam Mei-kam contested the will, arguing that Mui was mentally unfit when she executed her will in 2003, weeks before her death. The High Court ruled that Mui was of sound mind when she signed the will, and that she simply did not trust her mother with money.
Over the years, Tam mounted several legal challenges to the will, and succeeded in having the life tenancy varied to $120,000. Tam was reportedly owing $2 million in legal costs in 2011. A fresh appeal by Tam and Mui's elder brother Peter Mui failed at the Court of Final Appeal in May 2011.
After that challenge, the Court of First Instance of Hong Kong declared Tam bankrupt on 25 April 2012 for failing to pay legal fees, whilst allowing her to continue receiving her monthly allowance. In January 2013, the court ruled that the monthly tenancy of $120,000 to Tam, suspended since the previous July, would continue to be frozen due to mounting debts of the estate. Her brother was declared bankrupt on 17 January 2013 for failing to pay legal fees relating to the appeals. In May 2013, the court ordered the estate to pay Tam HK$20,000 a month for her living costs, as well as $240,000 to settle her overdue rent.
In 1995, Mui performed the song "Bad Girl" (壞女孩) in Guangzhou, China, where it was banned as it was considered pornographic in nature. The government authorities in Guangzhou were infuriated when she chose to sing the song on the last day of her concert.
Usually, English translations of Chinese titles from AnitaMuiNet.com are used. However, some English titles are different from the website, and some other albums are romanized in case that accurate translation may not be possible.Capital Artists Ltd.
Sum chai (Debts of the Heart) 心債 (1982)
Also includes solo recordings by members of the Hong Kong pop band, Siu Foo Deui (The Tigers) 小虎隊
Red Anita Mui 赤色梅艷芳 (Chek sik Mui Yim-fong) (1983)
Sometimes referred as Red 赤色 (Chek sik)
Leaping in the Spotlight 飛躍舞台 (Fei yeok mou toi) (1984)
Chi seoi lau nin (The Years Flow Like Water) 似水流年 (1985)
Bad Girl 壞女孩 (Waai neoi haai) (1985)
Yiu neoi (Temptress) 妖女 (1986)
Burning Tango 似火探戈 (Tsi fo taam gwo) (1987)
Flaming Red Lips 烈焰紅唇 (Leet yim hung seon) (1987)
Mung leoi gung tzeoi (Drunk in Dreams Together) 夢裡共醉 (1988)
Mellow 醉人情懷 (Zeoi yun tsing waai) (1988)
We'll Be Together — EP (1988)
Lady 淑女 (Sook neoi) Artists Ltd. (1989)
In Brasil (sometimes referred as In Brazil) (1989)
Say It If You Love Me 愛我便說愛我吧 (Ngoi ngo been soot ngoi ngo ba) (1989)
Cover Girl 封面女郎 (Fung meen neoi long) (1990)
Anita Mui (梅艷芳) (1991)
Sometimes it is called Yook mong ye sau gaai (Jungle of Desire) 慾望野獸街
It's Like This 是這樣的 (Si tze yeung dik) (1994)
Sometimes, it is referred to as This Is Anita Mui 梅艷芳是這樣的 (Mui Yim Fong si tze yeung dik)
The Woman of Songs 歌之女 (Goh tzi neoi) (1995)
Illusions 鏡花水月 (Geng faa seoi yu) (1997)
Variations 變奏 (Been tzau) (1998)
Larger Than Life (1999)
I'm So Happy (2000)
Also includes a few Mandarin songs
Go East Entertainment Co. Ltd.
English titles are official English titles used by record labels for below releases: Express (part of EMI Japan)Fantasy of Love / Debt of Love 唇をうばう前に / いのち果てるまで (kuchibiru woubau mae ni / inochi hate rumade) — EP (1983)
"Fantasy of Love" is the Japanese version of the Cantonese song "Gau cheut ngo dik sum" (交出我的心). "Debt of Love" is the Japanese version of the Cantonese song "Sum chai" (心債).
Marry Me Merry Me / nantonaku shiawase 日い花嫁 / なんとなく幸せ (nichii hanayome / nantonaku shiawase) — EP (1983)
Marry Me Merry Me is sometimes referred as Marry Me Marry Me.
Manjusaka 蔓珠莎華 (Man zhu sha hua) (1986)
Ever-changing Anita Mui: Flaming Red Lips 百變梅艷芳:烈焰紅唇 (Bai bian Mei Yan-fang: lieyan hong chun) (1988)
Intimate Lover 親密愛人 (Qinmi airen) (1991)
Other record labels
Caution 小心 (Xiaoxin) — Capital Artists Ltd. (1994)
Hong Kong edition of this album consists of Cantonese versions of some Mandarin songs.
Flower Woman 女人花 (Nüren hua) — Music Impact Ltd. (1997)
Anita Music Collection Ltd.
Moonlight on My Bed (or simply "Moonlight") 床前明月光 (Chuang qian ming yueguang) (1998)
Nothing to Say 沒話說 (Mei huashuo) (1999)
Capital Artists Ltd.
Anita Mui in Concert 87-88 百變梅艷芳再展光華87-88演唱會 — Cantonese (1988)
Anita in Concert '90 百變梅艷芳夏日耀光華演唱會1990 — Cantonese (1990)
Anita Mui Live in Concert 1995 一個美麗的回響演唱會 — Cantonese/Mandarin (1995)
Anita Mui Final Concert 1992 百變梅艷芳告別舞台演唱會 — Cantonese/Mandarin (2006)
Music Impact Ltd.
Anita Mui 1997 Live in Taipei 芳蹤乍現台北演唱會實錄 — Mandarin (1997)
Music Nation Records Company Ltd.
Anita Mui Fantasy Gig 2002 梅艷芳極夢幻演唱會2002 — Cantonese/Mandarin (2002)
Compilations released after 2004 are not included here: Capital Artists Ltd. (Cantonese)The Legend of the Pop Queen: Part I and Part II (1992)
Lifetime of Fantasies 情幻一生 (Ching waan yat sang) (1993)
Change 變 (Been) (1993)
Wong tze tzi fung (Majestic) 皇者之風 (1993)
Dramatic Life 戲劇人生 (Hei kek yan sang) (1993)
Love Songs 情歌 (Ching goh) (1997)
Love Songs II 情歌 II (Ching goh II) (1998)
Anita's 45 Songs 眾裡尋芳45首 (2001)
Tribute to Anita Mui 梅‧憶錄 (2004)
Faithfully 梅艷芳 (2008)
In Memory of Anita Mui 追憶似水芳華 (2013) (but labeled with incorrect grammar as "In the Memories of Anita Mui")
Other record labels
Anita Classic Moment Live 梅艷芳經典金曲演唱會 — Mui Music Ltd. (Cantonese/Mandarin) (2004)
Anita Mui Forever 永遠的... 梅艷芳 — BMG Taiwan Inc. (Mandarin) (2004)
New Talent Singing Awards winner 1982
Top 10 Jade Solid Gold Best Female Singer Award 1985—1989
Top 10 Jade Solid Gold Gold Song Gold Award for Sunset Melody (夕陽之歌) 1989
Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress 1985 for Behind the Yellow Line
Golden Horse Awards for Best Actress 1988 for Rouge
Asia-Pacific Film Festival Awards for Best Actress 1989 for Rouge
Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Actress 1989 for Rouge
Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress 1998 for Eighteen Springs
Golden Bauhinia Awards for Best Supporting Actress 1998 for Eighteen Springs
RTHK Golden Needle Award 1998
Golden Deer Awards for Best Actress 2002 for July Rhapsody