We used to know just much all there was to know about the young actor Dieter Brummer, from his star sign to his favourite cuisine, thanks to his role as TV heart-throb Shane Parrish on Home & Away in the 1990s.
Thousands of screaming young females would surround him when he made a guest appearance at a shopping mall. Countless magazine covers used his image. His mother even saved all of the fan mail he received, including boxes upon boxes of the 20,000-plus messages.
Last weekend, news of Brummer’s unexpected death (which authorities are not considering as suspicious) at the age of 45 made international headlines. Despite such intensive, pressure-cooker examination of his life, the circumstances surrounding his death are likely to remain a mystery, just as they are for most regular people.
And while Brummer, who finally abandoned the soap opera’s passionate, obsessive legacy, would probably like it that way, the kind of all-consuming celebrity he experienced was anything but average.
Brummer is a product of Australia’s well-oiled television soap machine, a multibillion-dollar business that has produced big-name performers for more than five decades. It transforms starry-eyed teens (sometimes signed on contracts that saw TV executives share too much of their success) into worldwide household names, stars who are today revered as some of our country’s greatest cultural exports.
Kylie and Dannii Minogue, Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, Heath Ledger, Russell Crowe, Isla Fisher, Simon Baker, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Julian McMahon, Jason Donovan, Margot Robbie, and Ben Mendelsohn are just a few of Brummer’s peers, not to mention Melissa George, who played Brummer’s Home & Away love interest Angel.
George was able to break out from the “Shane and Angel” hoopla and go on to have a significant international acting career. She, like many of the aforementioned soapie grads, is now in charge of her career and image, having endured in an industry infamous for forgetting its once-brightest stars.
But Brummer, one of many one-time big figures from the world of soaps who vanished into the pop cultural ether, either by choice or, as is more often the case, by cynical fate, did not experience such triumphs.
Former soap star Bruce Samazan, now a doting father of two girls and working in real estate on the Sunshine Coast, says, “There is definitely a shelf-life to that kind of celebrity.”
“I’d go to auditions and be told I was too commercial, that I didn’t have any credibility as a professional actor because I’d done operas… I had no option but to find something new, something I could count on. For a time, that was difficult to accept because TV was the most fun a young bloke could have.”
The words of the late Bunney Brooke, an actor who had experienced both the highs and lows of television, resonated truer later in life for Samazan, who featured in the “big three” soaps of Neighbours, Home & Away, and E Street.
“She urged me not to trust in my own publicity,” recalls the Silver Logie winner, “basically to look beyond what the publications were printing, all the hype.”
“She advised me to prepare a backup plan in case everything went wrong… and she was completely correct.”
In Brummer’s instance, there were a few tiny appearances in other shows, notably the Underbelly series, but for the majority of his life after Home & Away, he’d been swinging from high-rise buildings around Sydney cleaning windows.
It was a profession that allowed him to pursue his abseiling love without the scrutiny and pressure of the celebrity game that had hounded him for so long.
While Brummer did not consider it a professional failure in any way, reporters’ snarky description of him as “a window cleaner” obviously irritated him. Later on, he joked that he was a “industrial rope access technician.”
The news of his untimely demise brought back memories for millions of now middle-aged followers of the blue-eyed, blond idol of their childhood, who would chase him down the street.
Brummer may have found solace in anonymity later in life, but the massive public response to his death shows that he was far from forgotten even after all these years.