Belinda Emmett

Rebecca in 'Home and Away'
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The Independent Online

Belinda Emmett, actress: born Umina Beach, New South Wales 12 April 1974; married 2005 Rove McManus; died Sydney 11 November 2006.

Although she was never an international star in the mould of her fellow Australian Kylie Minogue, Belinda Emmett was a much-loved television actress whom viewers in her home country took to their hearts during her years playing Rebecca Fisher in the soap Home and Away and as an ambassador for breast-cancer awareness after she had surgery for a malignant tumour.

Like the Neighbours actress-turned-singer, Emmett was in a teen serial that hooked fans around the world. However, whereas Minogue has so far survived her fight for health, Emmett lost hers five years after the cancer returned in her bones.

On screen, she made Rebecca Fisher one of the most popular Home and Away characters of the 1990s - the third actress to take the role. Rebecca was the estranged daughter of Summer Bay High School's self-righteous principal, Donald Fisher (played by Norman Coburn), who had turned up on his doorstep after realising that she was not cut out to be the concert pianist he had hoped she would be.

Emmett, who joined in 1996, acted out one of the serial's great on-screen romances when Rebecca fell for Travis Nash and married him. Together, the pair ran a caravan park and became foster-parents, but they eventually left the bay after answering an advertisement for a couple to work as teachers, crew and mentors to 12 young people sailing around the world on a tall ship.

The actress's departure, in 1999, came a year after she had discovered a lump on her left breast and had the tumour removed. While undergoing a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiotherapy, she was replaced on screen by Megan Connolly, who herself tragically died of a heroin overdose in 2001.

After going into remission, Emmett, just 24, was told that the odds of her cancer returning were only 5 per cent. Although she went back to Home and Away briefly, she looked forward to recuperating with a holiday in Europe following Rebecca's on-screen departure. "If I don't end up acting again, then that's my fate," she said:

At this moment, having a break is very important to me. I don't know what the future will hold, but having a family is very important to me, too. Being a mum - I'm really looking forward to that.

With optimism for the future, she did return to acting, landing the role of a nurse, Jodi Horner (2000-01), in the popular Australian hospital series All Saints. Then, in 2001, on the set of her first feature film, the comedy The Nugget (starring Eric Bana, 2002), Emmett suffered intense back pain. It was discovered that the cancer had spread to her bones - and she was told it was incurable.

Refusing to accept that her disease had to be terminal, the actress followed chemotherapy with alternative-medicine treatments, desperate to find a cure. "It gives people hope in hopeless situations," she explained. However, she finally lost her battle for life at the age of 32.

Born in Umina Beach, on Australia's Central Coast, in 1974, Emmett worked for the local Coast Rock FM Radio station before gaining her acting break with the part of Tracy Russell in the long-running Australian sitcom Hey Dad . . ! during its final series (1994).

Then, she briefly appeared in Home and Away as Gail (1995), who had a fling with Travis Nash. When the producers were recasting the role of Rebecca Fisher a year later, they chose Emmett - whose screen character became Travis's wife.

Fame led the actress to record two CD albums of her own and, following her cancer diagnosis, a cover version of the Michael Jackson hit "Off the Wall" for the charity album Hope (1998). More recently, she sang a duet with Marcia Hines, the 1970s James Taylor hit "Shower the People", with Carly Simon singing backing vocals, for Hines's album Hinesight - Songs from the Journey (2004).

In 1999, after leaving Home and Away, she met the comedian Rove McManus - now a television talk-show host - at the opening of Fox Studios in Sydney and shortly afterwards began dating him. They married in January last year and Emmett's final television appearance was alongside him in a Christmas special, Spicks & Specks, last December.

She was last seen in public at the Australian Recording Industry Association Awards in Sydney two weeks ago, accompanying McManus, one of the event's hosts.

Anthony Hayward