Matthew Stewardson was a hugely talented South African actor, singer, television presenter and superb voice-over artist who made most of his money doing commercials.
He co-hosted the first season of Idols SA way back in 2002 with Candy Litchfield but midway through the season, he fired after relapsing into a longstanding drug and alcohol problem. He was replaced by Sami Sabiti who co-hosted the remainder of the season with Litchfield.
Stewardson was not the only Idols SA employee who didn’t complete season 1, Steve Hilton-Barber who was the official Idols SA photographer also didn’t complete the entire season as he died of a heart attack a month before the Grand Finale.
Quick Profile of Matthew Stewardson
Birth Name: Matthew Stewardson
Date of Birth: 11 December 1974
Died: Friday 10 December 2010, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Nationality: South African
Parents: Joe Stewardson (father), Diane Appleby (mother)
Siblings: Deon Stewardson
Fiancée: Irma Scholtz
His father was the great South African actor Joe Stewardson, who died in 1997, and his mother was British-born actress Diane Appleby.
Both his parents were alcoholics and it was evident early on that Stewardson had inherited their acting talent, it also became clear in his teens that he had inherited their addictive personalities, too.
Stewardson who matriculated at Pretoria Boys’ High was a child star and his father used to wheel him out to perform for his friends from radio, television and stage.
He was the juvenile lead in several films while still at school. After school he acted in at least 20 major musicals including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Sound of Music, Joseph, The Buddy Holly Story, Frankly Speaking — in which he sang the Sinatra songs he’d been singing since the age of six — Rat Pack, in which he played Dean Martin, and The Talented Mr Ripley for which he won the Naledi Award for best supporting actor.
Described as “an honest and awesome guy who was well-loved,” Stewardson had a troubled childhood. Matthew later revealed that he was “always a depressed teenager” and “felt like an outsider”.
Stewardson became a presenter for children’s channel KTV when he was 17 and did the job for five years, during which time he began using cocaine.
In his early twenties, with the pressure of wanting a successful career and growing up with an alcoholic father, Matthew became a cocaine addict. “And then I had the car accident, and everything got out of hand. I went manic”, he revealed.
After KTV Matthew seemed to disappear from the radar as he took on small parts in movies – like the part of “valet” in The Redemption, a movie about a boxer who seeks revenge in South Africa.
But there seemed to be light at the end of it all when Matthew was offered a chance to redeem himself and his floundering career. In 2002 M-Net bought the rights to host a little-known show called Idols, a reality singing competition that originated in the United Kingdom.
Matthew went to M-Net straight out of rehab, he promised that he was cured and asked to be given a chance. He gave a brilliant audition and was appointed to host Idols SA together with Candy Litchfield, everything seemed to be going well for the young actor, he was gaining popularity and he appeared to be in control of his life again. However his subsequent performances as an Idols SA presenter, and glaringly evident weight problem, drew stinging criticism. The pressure led to a relapse and half way through the first season, Matthew was fired and replaced with Sami Sabiti.
“I knew I was in trouble and I think one of the basics of staying clean is honesty with yourself. And I wasn’t honest with myself – I went ‘I’m fine’, and that was half the problem I had in Idols. I had this great job and everything was going well, and how could I find someone and say ‘I’m crumbling, I’m going to use’?” Matthew said.
Soon afterwards the 27-year-old checked himself into a rehab centre, shocking South Africans, whose celebrities were always clean and ironed (at least publicly), like Colin Moss.
This became the pattern of his life, he was booted from shows and lost friends.
Having witnessed the destructive effects of addiction on his father, the irony of his situation was not lost on him.
“I said, ‘I’ll never do what he has done,’ and I’ve done it. I’ve done it,” he said in an interview on Carte Blanche.
“This disease doesn’t care what you do. This disease doesn’t care if you’re a street sweeper or a president – it will take you down if you’ve got it… I’ve been to hell and back.” Matthew further revealed to M-Net’s Carte Blanche a few months after losing the Idols SA job.
Unlike other celebrity drug addicts, he refused to blame the pressures of showbiz.
“The industry is not to blame,” he said. “Matthew Stewardson is to blame.”
Matthew was close to his mother, who was his father’s third wife. But it was a bit of a love-hate relationship. He would be incensed with her when she relapsed, and she was equally furious with him when he relapsed. She died after a series of strokes in 2006.
It was a long and lonely struggle for Matthew after Idols, but he managed to stay clean for about five months. Then he got the chance of a lifetime – the lead role in Frankly Speaking, where he’d be singing Sinatra songs that he’d known from the age of six.
But just days before the first preview performances, Matthew had a relapse, after being drug-free for six months, and promptly lost his lead role as Frank Sinatra.
Matthew kept a low profile after this and slowly healed himself. He had a brief stint on 5Fm as a DJ, and hosted some small daytime shows on SABC.
Not giving up on his Rat Pack dreams, 34-year-old Matthew created a show called Sing when you’re Swinging which was staged at The Barnyard Theatre in Broadacres last year. The production included Jonathan Roxmouth, Emmanuel Castis and Bianca La Grange (of Idols).
And while he may have missed out on a glamorous television career, and maybe acting in Leon Schuster films, Matthew managed to find himself in theatre. In keeping with his love of swing music Matthew signed on to play Dean Martin in a Las Vegas-style musical tribute show The Rat Pack Live on Long Street in Cape Town in 2009. The show featured swing music made famous by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Matthew starred alongside American Sinatra impersonator Patrick Tobin.
Stewardson was also badly hit by the death of his fiancée, Irma Scholtz, who died in 2009 after having a heart attack on an air craft.
Matthew died in the afternoon on Friday 10 December 2010 while on holiday with friends in Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed on the beach after complaining about breathing difficulties while having surfing lessons. The former child star was just one day short of his 36th birthday.
“Jeffreys Bay police received a phone call of an incident at the beach. According to some witnesses, a man was on the beach when he collapsed. People called a lifesaver to help him and a paramedic, but it was too late. He was already dead,” said Jeffreys Bay police’s Marianette Olivier.
Stewardson was haunted for most of his life by drug addiction, he fought it relentlessly but every victory was followed by a relapse. At the time of his death, he had been “clean” for about a month.
Matthew’s family organised a memorial service for him at the Barnyard Theatre.
He is survived by a sister, a half sister and two half brothers.