Cliff Curtis' chess mentor passes away

A Ngāti Porou chess champion who was portrayed in the Cliff Curtis film The Dark Horse has passed away at the age of 39.

Shane 'Jedi' Fitzgerald, died of cancer on Wednesday in Gisborne surrounded by his loved ones.  He was the best friend of Genesis Potini – a gifted chess player who suffered from bipolar disorder and together they started a chess club in Gisborne for local youth.  

Their inspiring story was told in the successful 2014 film The Dark Horse.  Potini, who died in 2011, was portrayed by Cliff Curtis and Fitzgerald was played by The Dead Lands actor Xavier Horan.

Fitzgerald’s partner Tania Kiwara says he was a loving and loyal father with a zest for life.  Together the pair had seven children.

“He was a brilliant father, and it showed by how much all the kids adored him,” Kiwara told Māori Television.

In preparation for the film, Fitzgerald was flown to Los Angles to teach Cliff Curtis how to play chess while Curtis was filming a network television series.  When the Dark Horse began shooting he became a chess consultant on the set.

Fitzgerald had been battling cancer since 2012.  Kiwara says his involvement with the film helped Fitzgerald deal with his gruelling condition.

“It was the biggest highlight of his life and a positive moment for him.  He got to hang out with Cliff Curtis on Venice beach and play chess,” she says.

During the end of his illness, Fitzgerald continued to play online chess.

The Dark Horse producer Tom Hern says Fitzgerald was a special character who will never be forgotten.

“He was eccentric, brilliant and passionate,” Hern says. “He could have easily had a whole film made about him.”

Fitzgerald’s tangi will be held on January 21st at Rongo I Te Kai marae in Ruatoria.