Sir Howard Morrison's final interview aired just yesterday and included plenty of "silly talk" before ending with "god bless".
Veteran Dunedin broadcaster Neil Collins says he will always remember Sir Howard Morrison's final words in a radio interview.
"He said 'God bless you Neil. Goodbye'."
It happened just yesterday. Sir Howard died peacefully in his sleep today.
Mr Collins said they spoke in the language the Howard Morrison Quartet and friends had adopted in years past, with tenses swapped and consonants switched - boy would become doy and 'how are you?' would become 'would you be doy'.
"We had this silly talk as we did, and he said 'well Doy why don't we do it (interview) now? I said, 'well if you are happy Doy, let's do that' and turned the switch on. I'm just so pleased we did it."
Sir Howard is to be laid to rest at Rotorua's Kauae Cemetery on Tuesday, following a funeral service scheduled for 11am that morning.
He will be buried alongside members of his whanau who have gone before him.
In accordance with the wishes of his immediate family he will lie at his Ohinemutu home tonight before being carried the few metres to Tamatekapua, the premier meeting house of Te Arawa where his public tangi will be held tomorrow from about 10am.
Tuesday has been chosen for Sir Howard's farewell to allow his numerous relatives and friends from overseas the opportunity to farewell him.
Sir Howard, 74, who had a history of heart problems had just returned from a holiday in Rarotonga.
Family spokesman Temuera Morrison said his uncle's farewell would be a "huge celebration of a great life".
"Uncle would like it like that. He had the great ability to see celebration in everything. This is the way he wanted to go."
He said it had already become obvious that Sir Howard was a very popular man.
"So many accolades are already flowing in – the phone is ringing red hot."
His uncle had died peacefully in bed at his own home.
"He's got a little smile on his face."
Morrison said a number of Ohinemutu residents had noted that a "funny kind of surreal mist" had been hanging over the village at the time of Sir Howard's passing.
"Maybe he hopped on that, crossed the waters (of Lake Rotorua) and visited Mokoia Island as he started his great journey onward."
As well as having a beautiful voice Sir Howard always had an element of cheek about him, Morrison said.
He liked to 'sus' people out to see where they were coming from.
He was very charismatic, performing everywhere. He had a remarkable following and the special gift of feeling an audience as he worked his way to his crescendo.
After his own father's death, members of his immediate family had been guided by their uncle Howard, Morrison said.
"He held a kind of awe for us, there was this mystique about him, but to us he was a father figure guiding us to stand on our own feet and hold our own."
He had fond memories of his uncle returning from a trip to the East with toy machine guns for young whanau members to play with.
"Things popped out the back – they had all the gears, we'd never seen anything like it."
He said as well as his Rotorua roots through the iwi of Te Arawa and its Ngati Whakaue hapu, Sir Howard had strong links with the Tuhoe, spending most of his early years in the Ureweras.
Sir Howard had a close affiliation with his home village of Ohinemutu and only recently sung at the Rotorua RSA to raise funds for St Faith's church and Whakaturia whare kai (dining room).
His cousin, Monty Morrison, said it had been a huge honour to have one of its own knighted. Tribal members were preparing to welcome guests from throughout the country.
Among the first to pay tribute and extend condolences was Dame Malvina Major with whom sir Howard had frequently sung and toured.
Sir Howard's family were aware of the number of heartfelt tributes pouring on to websites in recognition of his great talent.
"They are very touched. It is very warming, very heartening," Monty Morrison said.
Prime Minister John Key paid tribute to Sir Howard from New York, where he is at the United Nations, calling him "a real gentleman".
He said Sir Howard had made an immense contribution to New Zealand music over more than 50 years.
"Sir Howard was a New Zealand success story. From humble beginnings he became an international success, first with the Howard Morrison Quartet, and then in an illustrious solo career.
"But more than that, Sir Howard was one of New Zealand’s best loved entertainers, his appeal spanning every age group.
Sir Howard received his knighthood in 1990 for services to entertainment.
"My thoughts are with his whanau at this time. Sir Howard Morrison will be greatly missed."
Labour leader Phil Goff said Sir Howard was a great New Zealander and a legend of entertainment for generations of Kiwis.
"He has been a huge part of New Zealand life for such a long time and will be missed by us all.
"I would like to extend my sympathies to Sir Howard's whanau for their loss," Mr Goff said.
Broadcaster Paul Holmes is leading the call of those saying Sir Howard Morrison deserves a new tribute – to be called the country's greatest ever entertainer.
"I am spending some of today wondering if he is our greatest entertainer of all time. Now I know you've got the likes of Dame Malvina [Major, opera singer] and Dame Kiri [Te Kanawa] but in terms of being able to reach across the social divides and the racial divides Sir Howard had no peer. Howard could make anyone laugh and his presence on stage demanded attention."
"I think he was probably our greatest all rounder."
Mr Holmes said Sir Howard was "such a professional" with a great sense of humour, gracious and distinguished.
"He looked aristocratic actually."
"It was an amazing career. Sir Howard is the first NZ entertainer I remember in my life and he was still going 50 years later."
In 1958 the Howard Morrison Quartet recorded My Old Man's an All Black which dealt with a controversial rugby tour of South Africa.
Mr Holmes said: "My Old Man's an All Black was genuine social commentary and it enabled us to laugh at a very painful thing which was the South African exclusion of Maori from the All Black team, while at the same time making us aware that it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet Howard could make us laugh about it."
Rotorua-based Labour MP Steve Chadwick said Sir Howard lived a rich and full life that he shared with the Rotorua community and all of New Zealand.
"Sir Howard loved the song I Did It My Way and he certainly lived up to the words he sung so beautifully," Ms Chadwick said.
"To politicians he was someone who was determined to hold us to account and to keep us honest, but he was always welcoming to us no matter what side of the political divide we were on."
Rotorua National MP Todd McClay has said he was greatly saddened to learn of Sir Howard's death.
"Sir Howard was an exceptional entertainer. He was a real statesman and a man who led by example. Rotorua has lost one of its proud sons today," Mr McClay said.
"Howard Morrison has been at the forefront of New Zealand music for more than 50 years and his contribution was immense. My thoughts and feelings go to Sir Howard's family on what must be a very difficult time."
Sir Howard had frequent dealings with the political world and was a strong advocate on Maori health, education and development issues.
Last year it came to light that expat billionaire Owen Glenn offered Sir Howard $1 million to stand for Parliament.
"We got on so well he actually offered me a million dollars to stand as a Member of Parliament as an independent. I turned him down," Sir Howard said at the time.
One of Sir Howard's enduring legacies was his encouragement of family into the entertainment business.
He sang at the launch of young relative and now rising international soprano Elizabeth Marvelly's self-titled debut album two years ago.
Marvelly's father, Rotorua hotelier Brett Marvelly, said he rang her in Germany this morning to tell her of the news of Sir Howard's death.
"She is, of course, very sad. She had a very strong emotional connection to him, she respected him so much for all the right reasons. . . He taught her so much."
In recent years Elizabeth Marvelly had toured extensively with Sir Howard and Dame Malvina Major and was among those who performed at a televised concert staged in Rotorua in his honour last year.
Remi Morrison, 83, said he was Sir Howard's first cousin and the Koro Matua, or great grandfather of the family.
He said he had only heard the news a short time before spoken to by Stuff.co.nz and said it was a "shock to all the family."
He expected the tangi to be huge and said it would be held at the Tamatekapua meeting house on the Ohinemutu marae in Rotorua.
"It's going to be a big occasion for Howard," he said.
Sir Howard was due to sing the national anthem at the David Tua v Shane Cameron heavyweight boxing match in Hamilton next week.
Ray Woolf , who for 12 years appeared on adverts for Bic pens with Sir Howard on television, said he was extremely talented with an indefinable magic.
"He had a magic in his eye, when he went on stage he could just have that audience in the palm of his hand."
"He had a great attitude … he was very talented; extremely talented," Woolf he told Radio New Zealand.
"He was very, very funny."
Woolf said he was aware of Morrison's poor health. Although his voice had suffered a little during his illness, it had kept its "sparkle".
Alongside his singing he was also a ground breaking comedian, doing the type of comedy that Billy T James later perfected.
Dennis Brown, music promoter who worked with Sir Howard, called him "an inspirational man" and a "unique talent" when speaking to RNZ.
Sir Howard had a magic about him and was the equal of any international star, he said. He once opened for Tom Jones on tour.
"He was held in awe by entertainers who saw him perform."
Yet he was a modest man who never "big noted" and his family always came first.
"I think Howard had sheer talent and a natural exuberance and of course a wonderful voice.
"He could do it so easily."
Mr Brown said the Howard Morrison Quartet, in which Sir Howard came to fame, had been of such quality it could have performed on any international stage – and Sir Howard was the driving force.
"He was always ahead of his time."
TVNZ said today it would rescreen the programme, To Sir With Love, on TV One tomorrow at 8.30pm.
Sir Howard, who had a history of heart problems, died in Rotorua this morning. He had recently returned from a holiday in Rarotonga.
He had a singing career for more than 50 years, gaining fame as his Howard Morrison Quartet ran up a string of hits in the late 1950s and 1960s.
He was awarded an OBE in 1976 and was knighted in 1990.
Of mixed Maori and Pakeha ancestry, Sir Howard was born in 1935 into a Rotorua family renowned for its entertainment skills.
He was married to Kuia, Lady Morrison, for 52 years. They had two sons and a daughter.
Tributes were also paid to Sir Howard when Parliament sat today.
Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said Sir Howard's music, and his style of entertainment, transcended national and cultural boundaries to lift the spirits of people great and small in every corner of the world.
"Howard took the songs of our people, the songs of his beloved village of Ohinemutu to the world," Dr Sharples said.
"He touched the hearts of New Zealanders with his incredible talent, never finer than in the Royal Command Performance in 1981, when his rendition of Whakaari Mai (How Great thou art) made us all proud."
The party's other co-leader Tariana Turia said Sir Howard would also be remembered for his devotion to people.
"Sir Howard was able to utilise his distinctive status to support rangatahi Maori in being able to have dreams and to believe the world was theirs," Mrs Turia said.
"That was perhaps his greatest gift to Aotearoa – that he instilled a fierce sense of pride in us all."
Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said Sir Howard was a giant kauri tree of New Zealand music.
"He was always a foremost New Zealander with a deep-seated bond and love for his country, for his home town and for his people," he said.
"Sir Howard was never shy with his time and talent to help Maori or the Government in a positive way. He is a New Zealander whose passing will be mourned by us all."
Progressive leader Jim Anderton said Sir Howard was more than a world-class and unique entertainer; he was a fierce advocate for a fair go for all New Zealanders.
"Sir Howard was passionately committed to the economic development of New Zealand and in particular for Maori economic development and an equal place for Maori in New Zealand society," Mr Anderton said.
"He never sought political glory, even though he was driven by strong convictions and beliefs all his life."
United Future leader Peter Dunne said Sir Howard's death was a great loss to New Zealand.
"Sir Howard contributed in so many ways to our nation, including with his commitment to charity and the good of others less fortunate than himself," Mr Dunne said.
"He was indeed a gentleman, and with style and panache to match his talent."
Labour MP Shane Jones said he was a revered figure who brought New Zealand together.
"Sir Howard, you will not wholly die. Your sentiments will live on in our personality as New Zealanders."
Green Party MP Jeanette Fitzsimons said Sir Howard was a great entertainer whose commitment to Maori youth and education had came to the fore.
"For half a century, Sir Howard entertained, inspired New Zealanders and made us laugh. That is a great gift, and it is one for which he is dearly loved," she said.
"This was a life of service in so many ways. He will be greatly missed."
ACT MP Heather Roy said Sir Howard was an entertainer, statesman and true New Zealand icon.
"As well as using music to cross national and cultural boundaries, he devoted so much of his life to his people and made enormous contributions," she said.
"In his lifetime, Sir Howard touched the hearts of people throughout the world, and with his passing New Zealand as a nation has lost one of its beloved sons."
When speeches were completed Parliament adopted a motion to mark the passing of Sir Howard Morrison and stood to observe a moment's silence.
- By CLIO FRANCIS, MICHAEL FOX, Stuff.co.nz and NZPA
- © Fairfax NZ News
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