Young Lee Kuan Yew was probably the most badass person you’d ever meet

Remember the times when Lee Kuan Yew was young and dangerous? Ok you probably don’t. But, back in his prime, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was one of Singapore’s most interesting people. He was Singapore’s first Prime Minister post-independence, and was also one of the first opposition People’s Action Party (PAP) members in a Legislative Assembly populated by Labour Front members.

He later almost single-handedly flipped the scales, resulting in a landslide victory for the PAP in the 1959 General Elections with his policies and promises.

Here, we take a look back at the 20 times LKY was a badass you could only wish to be.

1. When Asia’s best actor almost played him in a movie


Remember that time in 2011 when Tony Leung Chiu-Wai was rumoured to be playing the former Prime Minister in a biopic? It would have been such an honour for Asia’s leading man to portray our founding father.

The role has since been confirmed to be played by Singapore’s best actor, Lim Kay Tong. And the film, 1965, is supposed to be about Singapore in the 60’s, rather than a story about Mr Lee’s life.

So I guess that’s still pretty good.

Check out Lim Kay Tong as Lee Kuan Yew here.

2. He’s actually a Terminator

He’ll be back.


3. He’s been turned into art


4. He checks the obituary to see who he outlived

“At 89, I look at the obituary pages and see very few who have outlived me.”

5. He cried on national TV

Because crying is ok. And there’s something beautiful about a man crying on national television.

6. He’s super sure of himself

During the period leading up to the formation of Malaysia, LKY expressed his confidence that Singapore must merge with Malaya. Merger of the two territories was “as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun”, he said.

7. He knows how to party…


“When I was in my 30s, I was fond of smoking and drinking beer.”

He also proposed the Singapore Swing, a street party along Orchard Road that lasted from 1988 to 1992.

8. And later basically willed himself to quit smoking and drinking for very practical reasons

“The drinking gave me a beer belly and it was showing up in pictures appearing in the press.

“I quit smoking because it was causing me to lose my voice at election campaigns.”

 — One Man’s View Of The World (2013)

9. Doesn’t waste his time sitting around listening to Tin Pei Ling

10. When he became the face of too many memes

How many people can become a meme and still be taken seriously? (Hi, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson aka the ‘We got a badass here’ guy)

11. Picked up entire languages after turning 30

Who says an old dog can’t pick up new tricks? LKY grew up speaking English but later realised he had to speak other languages to connect with the electorate.

So he picked up Mandarin at 32, and Hokkien at 38.

And his Hokkien’s actually pretty good for a kentang.

12. He basically challenged JBJ to a fistfight


Jeyaretnam was attacking the system, he brought the Chief Justice into it. If I want to fix you, do I need the Chief Justice to fix you? Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac. That’s the way I had to survive in the past. That’s the way the communists tackled me. He brought the Chief Justice into the political arena. He brought my only friend in university into our quarrel. How dare he!”

— The Man and His Ideas (1998)

13. He wants to play God…

“There are many sons of doctors who have married doctors. Those who married spouses who are not as bright are tearing their hair out because their children can’t make it. I have lived long enough to see all this play out.”

“So when the graduate man does not want to marry a graduate woman, I tell him he’s a fool, stupid. You marry a non-graduate, you’re going to have problems, some children bright, some not bright. You’ll be tearing your hair out. you can’t miss.”

— Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going (2012)

14. And he doesn’t care what you think

 “I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”

— The Straits Times, 20 April 1987

15. He’s surprisingly progressive about homosexuals


“No it’s not a lifestyle. You can read the books you want, all the articles. You know that there’s a genetic difference. They are born that way and that’s that. So if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone.”

– Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going (2012)

If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual – because that’s the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes – you can’t help it. So why should we criminalise it?”

— The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew, (2007)


16. He admitted that the media is a government mouthpiece

He said this in an address dated 9 June, 1971, at the General Assembly Of The International Press Institute in Helsinki.

17. He’s still Harry from the block


And he isn’t impressed by your flashy clothes.

“I’m not interested in changing either my suit or my car or whatever with every change in fashion. That’s irrelevant. I don’t judge myself or my friends by their fashions. Of course, I don’t approve of people who are sloppy and unnecessarily shabby or dishevelled… But I’m not impressed by a $5,000 or $10,000 Armani suit.”

— The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew (1995)

18. He thinks the opposition isn’t very good

“If we had considered them serious political figures, we would not have kept them politically alive for so long. We could have bankrupt them earlier.”

The Straits Times, Sept 14 2003

19. His views about Aljunied


“If Aljunied decides to go that way, well Aljunied has five years to live and repent”

“At the end of the day, if you are in Aljunied, ask yourself: Do you want one MP, one Non-Constituency MP, one celebrity who has been away 30 years, and two unknowns to look after you? Or would you prefer me and my hand-picked colleagues?”

 — General Elections 2011

20. He’s the most amazing speaker, ever. 

You’d never want to cross LKY

Lee Kuan Yew is many things to many people: founding father, outspoken politician, benevolent dictator, even the man with the iron fists. Whatever you may think of him, Mr Lee played an integeral part in the development of Singapore, and deserves all the plaudits.

Mr Lee is currently still under observation at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) with severe pneumonia. He was admitted on 5 February, and is currently using a ventilator to help his breathing. Our prayers are with you, Mr Lee.

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With reference via Asia Research Institute, DirectAsia, AsiaOne