A physician-turned-actor, Cuneyt Arkin has served as an actor, producer, screenwriter and director in countless movies, leaving an indelible mark on Turkish film history.
A beloved titan of Turkish cinema, Fahrettin Cureklibatir, known to his fans as Cuneyt Arkin, passed away at the age of 84 in Istanbul, Türkiye on June 28. Reports say it was due to a heart attack he suffered at home.
Arkin was a prolific actor who acted in close to 300 films spanning multiple genres. In the Malkocoglu series in the late 1960s-early 1970s, he represented an Akinci member of the Ottoman army, as well as a peasant that helps him, in a double role.
His historical adventure roles were not limited to Malkocoglu; in the 1970s he acted in Battal Gazi films as a Turkish hero single handedly fighting against, and besting, the Byzantine Empire. These films showed off his horse-riding and acrobatic skills that he picked up while helping out with the Medrano circus that stopped by Istanbul.
A brave actor who did his own stunts riding horses and jumping off cliffs, or delivering karate chops and flying kicks to evil enemies, Arkin also acted as a romantic lead in many films thanks to his matinee idol looks, compared to popular actors of the era, especially Alain Delon, with a dash of Burt Lancaster or Marcello Mastroianni thrown in for good measure.
Poet Cemal Sureya called him ‘Superman of the Silk Road’. Sureya met him when Arkin was a young student in Eskisehir, and their friendship continued while Arkin was still a medical student in Istanbul.
Arkin wrote on his website that the total running time of all the films and TV series he has been in would add up to about five years. “That means I have worked for five years and sat around for 25. This is a useless waste of time; something that upsets one’s nervous system, one’s soul. I was able to use this waste of time very well, by reading, writing, talking instead of shooting films. Yet I made some films that did not fit me in all this haste,” he explained.
“I shot films in seven, eight days. I was the director, the screenwriter, and the actor at once. Of course that took a lot from me. When I started writing poems and stories, I had friends. Such as Cemal Sureya, Turgut Uyar. I always viewed them as heroes, as brave souls. Because they persevered until they earned their living from their pens. I think I may have taken it easy. But was I aware of this? No. Because I wasn’t given the time or opportunity to become aware.”
Arkin was best known in the Western world for ‘The Man who Saved the World,’ a fantasy film in which he battled furry aliens and flew a starship, with scenes famously intercut with ‘Star Wars’ footage. That’s why ‘The Man who Saved the World’ with its preposterous plot, campy monsters and dreamlike scenery –– shot in Goreme in Anatolia – is often referred to as the ‘Turkish Star Wars’ in foreign sources.
Born on September 8, 1937 in Türkiye’s Eskisehir province, Arkin was a child of a family of modest means. At the insistence of his mother and older sister, he completed his studies there and was accepted to Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine with a scholarship.
Upon graduation as a medical doctor, he got married to a fellow physician, Guler Mocan in 1964. Their daughter Filiz was born in 1966. Arkin was serving as a doctor in the obligatory military service in Eskisehir when he met director Halit Refig, who was shooting the film ‘Safak Bekcileri.’
Even though Arkin accepted Refig’s offer to act in the film, his superiors in the military did not give their consent so he couldn’t take part in ‘Safak Bekcileri.’ But he had been bitten by the film bug.
“I started going back and forth to Istanbul,” Arkin said. “I had gotten married, but once again when I was in Istanbul Halit Refig caught me, and told me ‘There is a role perfect for you.’ This was ‘Gurbet Kuslari.’”
Arkin’s marriage to Mocan did not survive the demands of his film career, and the couple divorced in 1968. He married Betul Isil in 1970, only to get divorced a year later.
Arkin struggled with alcohol abuse for some time, and stopped drinking at the urging of Betul Isil. He has been a keen campaigner against substance abuse since then.
Arkin and Isil could not stay away from each other very long: They remarried in 1972, and Isil gave birth to two sons, Murat and Kaan Polat. Arkin is survived by his wife, sons, daughter and grandchildren.
There will be a memorial service for Arkin at the Ataturk Cultural Center in Taksim on June 30 at 10 AM, followed by a religious ceremony at Tesvikiye Mosque at midday prayers. Arkin will be buried following the service at Zincirlikuyu Cemetery in Istanbul.