In his 35-year career as the man behind one of Philippine publishing’s most-read columns, he treated showbiz watchers to some of the juiciest, meatiest stories about their favorite stars. He delivered insider scoops on new romances, breakups, and pregnancies. The stars trusted him enough to share with him their deep, dark secrets, their painful, bitter pasts. All these made his column, for the longest time, the show biz authority. The page people went straight to as soon as they got their hands on a copy of The Philippine Star.
He famously broke the news on the marital troubles of Pops Fernandez and Martin Nievera, the breakup of Dolphy and Alma Moreno, Ruffa Gutierrez’s split with Yilmaz Bektas, the wedding of Charlene Gonzales and Aga Muhlach. More recently, of course, the secret wedding of Sarah Geronimo to Matteo Guidicelli—“Sarah and Matteo getting married today?” went his headline—came out in the Star, issue February 20 of 2020.
What was his secret? "His gentle ways," says Nestor Cuartero, a colleague for many years. "He was soft-spoken and friendly. It was easy for people to like him then trust him with their secrets." He was also very skillful during interviews, adds Nestor, "an expert when it came to choice of words while asking the sensitive questions." He laso enjoyed a closeness to select show biz icons: Vilma Santos, Fernando Poe Jr and Susan Roces, Gloria Diaz.
Ricky has interviewed over 200 stars in his career, and many of them have become so comfortable with him they called him by his first name. “[He] had a certain charm that made him unforgettable even to Hollywood stars,” wrote the newspaper editor Pam Pastor recently on Facebook. She recalled one instance when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson even left his entourage so he could approach the columnist and greet him like they’re old friends. The Rock, apparently, belonged to the roster of Ricky’s favorite Hollywood celebrities.
“No one was as successful as Ricky when it came to entertainment reporting,” wrote film reviewer and one time showbiz talk show host Butch Francisco. It was because the guy loved what he was doing. In fact, Ricky himself said he “never missed a column in his life, except once.” Which Philippine Star president and CEO Miguel Belmonte confirmed. “Ricky died with his boots on,” he said Wednesday when news broke that the veteran entertainment journalist had passed away. “Ricky still has a column today, his last.”
The boy from Samar
The young Ricky would not have predicted he was going to carve out a career in show business. Ricardo Lo, who celebrated his 75th birthday last April 21, spent his childhood in the riverine town of Las Navas, Northern Samar, where he once dreamt of becoming a priest. He forged a friendship with their parish priest Fr. Fernando Tan who became a great influence to him and his friends, Ricky told People Asia in an interview. He was about to enter the seminary in Calbayog City when, in an unfortunate twist of fate, Father Fernando drowned in a motorboat accident a couple of months before Ricky and his pals could receive their diploma. Ricky took this as a sign he needed to find a new path.
When he entered secondary school at Tabaco Pei Ching School in Albay, he discovered what would become his lifetime passion—writing. “I knew I love writing even as a kid because I was fascinated with my Classic Illustrated comic books collection,” he told the writer Leah Salterio in an interview published last year. He also thought his exposure to Chinese pocketbooks, courtesy of his father, Vincent Lo, strengthened his interest in the printed medium.
But before he finally went into writing as a profession, he flirted with the thought of becoming a chemical engineer. Proof: He took one semester at the Mapua Institute of Technology. Realizing, however, that Math wasn’t his turf, he decided to drop out and shift to AB English—which made him move to the University of the East.
Chasing the stories
Ricky’s first brush with publishing was as a helper in a '60s movie magazine called Stardust. He was earning P1,000 a month which at that time was good enough for him to get by. He contributed stories to Variety magazine, the Sunday supplement of The Manila Times. And when he was offered to join the newspaper’s editorial team, he knew it was an opportunity he could not pass up.
He found himself covering the news. “I used to cover the First Quarter Storm, rallies and Congress, student activism,” he told People Asia, recalling his time as a probationary employee. “Every night when I got home, my pants were ripped from running. When the rallyists ran, we ran, too.” After his probation, he was taken in by the publication as editorial assistant. But when Martial Law arrived, he lost his job and soon found himself working for the Daily Express group of publications. This was where he started making a name for himself as Ricardo F. Lo—in the pages of the paper’s Expressweek magazine.
When Daily Express closed after the 1986 revolt, Ricky had a brief stint as an entertainment editor at the Manila Times and the Manila Chronicle before joining The Philippine Star in 1986 where his Funfare column was born.
Starry eyed no more
It was in the entertainment field where he truly found his niche. “I was very fascinated with the stars. They seem so unreal, like they’re not human at all. When I started writing, I realized they were just people, too,” Ricky told People Asia.
He was a singular, admirable persona in the entertainment beat. Even his colleagues in the field would say this. Veteran entertainment writer Mario Bautista, in a Facebook post, wrote that what he liked most about Ricky was his humility. “Success never went into his head,” said Mario. “Considering his stature in the industry, he’s not one who’d throw his weight around. We’ve met other writers who have yet to achieve even just one fourth of what he has achieved but are already acting like they’re God’s gift to the entertainment industry.”
Ricky was, indeed, in a league of his own. “Siya lang ang reporter na hindi ako makapagsabi ng 'no' or 'di ko alam.' Once he asks me something, hindi ako pwede magsinungaling dyan,” said Annabelle Rama in an interview. “Siya lang talaga ang sinasabihan ko ng blind item at secrets. Hinahabol-habol ko pa lang si Eddie Gutierrez, alam na ni Ricky lahat ng sikreto ko.”
Perhaps it is Martin Nievera—whose breakup with Pops Fernandez, like we said earlier, first came out in Ricky’s column—who sums up the Ricky Lo Effect best. The balladeer, who considers the entertainment chronicler as one of the most feared and most respected writers of his time, said recently. “If you got a Ricky Lo review it was always a ‘keeper.’ When you got a Ricky Lo blind item it was a ‘creeper,’ because 99.9 percent of the time he was right. How did he know? The world will never know.”