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Sir Paul Holmes dies

Friday 1 Feb 2013 9:35 a.m.

Sir Paul Holmes at his investiture (Getty)

Sir Paul Holmes at his investiture (Getty)

By Kim Chisnall with 3 News online staff

Iconic New Zealand broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes has succumbed to his long illness, dying at the age of 62.

His family issued a statement this morning, saying “Sir Paul Holmes passed away peacefully early this morning surrounded by his family in Hawkes Bay, as he wished it to be.”

"More than just a broadcaster, Paul was a loving husband and father, as well as a generous friend. He loved people and people loved him.

"Lady Holmes, Millie, Rueben and Ken Holmes would like to thank the public for their incredible support."

Information on how the public can pay tribute to him will be announced in due course.

Sir Paul was knighted on January 16 – the investiture ceremony brought forward because of his poor health.

It was an acknowledgement that came not a moment too soon.

As he battled prostate cancer and an ailing heart the broadcaster paused to reflect on his four-decade career.

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who in my broadcasting was fair,” Sir Paul told media after the ceremony. “Fair-minded. Not convinced of someone’s guilt or innocence right from the start.”

Sir Paul's career began in radio in the 1970s. He went on to work in Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before returning to New Zealand and the job that would define his career.

Sir Paul took over from 1ZB host Merv Smith and turned the Auckland station from a community radio format to Newstalk. 

His television career began in 1989 with the current affairs show simply called Holmes. It was New Zealand's first personality-based 7 o’clock current affairs show - and it began with a bang, when the now infamous America’s Cup skipper Dennis Conner walked out.

That same year, Sir Paul survived a helicopter crash that killed his fellow passenger, cameraman Jo Von Dinklage.

Tackling the big stories

Sir Paul took on the story of HIV victim Eve van Grafthorst, and showed New Zealand that HIV/AIDS wasn't something to be afraid of. He also championed the success of New Zealand Paralympians, hosting a documentary on the subject.

Then there was his famous interview with Jonah Lomu. The rugby star was reduced to tears after admitting his parents didn't know about his recent marriage.

In 1996, fugitive gunman John Grant Fagan called Sir Paul on his Newstalk show, and he agreed to meet him.

Police accused Sir Paul of acting the hero, but it was indicative of the star's pulling power. If people wanted to get their point across to the public, Sir Paul was the one they talked to.

Mark Todd certainly thought so. He appeared on the Holmes show to address drug and sex allegations.

Sir Paul interviewed everyone and anyone, a punishing work schedule that was made harder in 1999 when the broadcaster revealed he was battling prostate cancer.

The following year he began a short-lived music career, releasing an album of covers.

Not shy of controversy

In 2003 he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, but later that year the loyalty of his audience was tested when he called then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan a “cheeky darky”.

Mitsubishi pulled their sponsorship of the Holmes show and Sir Paul was forced to apologise

“Never mind that the comments were an attempt to be satire, to be tongue in cheek,” he said. “In the making of them this was not clear. I accept this. I was trying to shock, to provoke. I was tired.”

In 2004 the broadcaster crashed his vintage Boaring Stearman biplane - not once, but twice. Both times he walked away uninjured.

That same year he also walked away from TVNZ, after 15 years on air.

He was TVNZ's highest paid employee at the time on a salary of more than $700,000. Sir Paul said he left with no sour grapes, just affection.

But he wasn’t off the screen for long, starting a new show on rival network Prime the following year.

“I'm a man who feels very much in the summer of his career,” he said at the time.

But by winter - just six months later - the show was axed. 

Always the entertainer, he wasn't afraid to try new things. In 2007 Sir Paul was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

A family man, but a workaholic

In 2008 his adopted daughter Millie was convicted on drug charges and Sir Paul pleaded with the judge for leniency.

He went on to be an outspoken advocate against methamphetamine. At his knighthood, his family loyalty was acknowledged.

“The Governor-General told me that one of my redeeming features was the way in which I stuck up for my daughter when she got into trouble, and I had no trouble doing that because she's family and when a kid gets into trouble you've got to help them,” he said.

In 2008 after 23 years behind the microphone, Sir Paul announced he was leaving his Newstalk ZB breakfast show, taking on the Saturday morning show instead.

The following year he returned to television, hosting the political talk show Q+A.

Last year he underwent open heart surgery and was put in an induced coma to recover. But even that didn't hold back the self-confessed workaholic for long - by November he was back on Q+A asking the hard questions.

When summing up his career at his investiture, Sir Paul said he did have some regrets.

“I made mistakes,” he admitted. “I went too far. I thought I could do something and it wasn't accepted, but on the whole for a fella who lived on his wits and lived life, I think I did pretty well.”

An understatement from a man who will be remembered as a New Zealand broadcasting legend.

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