Award-winning Māori actor Nancy Brunning dies

updated By James Perry

Actor and writer Nancy Brunning, of Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāi Tūhoe, died overnight, after a long battle with cancer, aged 48.

She leaves behind a lasting legacy of Māori stories and characters, on the small screen, silver screen and on stage.

One of her final projects she worked on was Witi's Wāhine where she brought together some of Witi Ihimaera’s poignant wāhine Māori characters.

She told Te Ao Māori News in June, the production highlighted the usual treatment of wāhine Māori characters, “Wāhine Māori are often dumbed down for the screen and many have their stories altered or diminished in order to bring the male characters into the spotlight. They are portrayed as leaders by default rather than by design.”

An online campaign was launched earlier this year to crowdsource funds, which her friends said at the time were to purchase a “life-prolonging” drug, “we can ensure that she finishes some important projects”.

On behalf of Brunning's whānau, friend Stacey Morrison said on Facebook, “Our māmā, our sister, our aunty, our friend, she has followed the call of her tīpuna. Nancy’s passion was to bring unheard stories to the light. To remind our people that our voices are a powerful tool and aroha is the most important thing of all.

“We wish to express our deep gratitude and mihi to everyone who has supported Nancy and our whānau. Thank you to the kind people at Mary Potter Hospice and the hardworking staff at Wellington Hospital. Thank you to all of you who supported her battle in many ways, including the Manaakitia fundraiser.”

Brunning became a household name when she burst onto the small screen as nurse Jaki Manu on Shortland Street in the early ‘90s, after graduating from Toi Whakaari in 1991.

She won many awards during her career that spanned three decades, including the 1999 Best Actress Award at the NZ Film Awards for What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? and the 2017 Best Actress Award at the St. Tropez Festival de Antipodes in France for her leading role in Mahana.  

She was also named as a finalist as Best Actress for In Dark Places at this year's New Zealand Television Awards which will be held this Thursday night in Auckland.

Nancy Brunning will be taken to Raukawa Marae in Ōtaki, with final arrangements yet to be confirmed.