Sir Paul Holmes - a broadcasting legend

Last updated 12:00 02/02/2013

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OPINION: We knew it was coming, but Sir Paul Holmes' death was still greeted with huge sadness by many.

Sadness because of the passing of a man who had achieved a great deal in his relatively short lifetime.

The 62-year-old finally succumbed yesterday morning, after battling heart problems and the return of prostate cancer.

His family led the tributes, saying he was a "loving husband and father, as well as a generous friend. He loved people and people loved him".

Prime Minister John Key was next, saying that while Holmes never suffered fools, "his interviews were never without kindness and empathy". Labour Party leader David Shearer and colleagues from throughout his time in journalism added their contributions. The range and amount of tributes speaks volumes for the man.

Holmes was undoubtedly the broadcaster of a generation - he made news and current affairs more accessible to a greater number of people. He could connect with people from all walks of life, and get them talking. Those who worked with him say that by calling prime ministers by their first names, Holmes made people care about the news. He was considered the consummate professional under pressure, and certainly wasn't shy in asking the tough questions.

Holmes was seen as a trailblazer, a pioneer of the talk radio format. He was the original breakfast host on the Newstalk ZB network in 1987.

Described as "frighteningly intelligent", all who worked with him say he had the uncanny ability to be hard-nosed and put the heat on during interviews, but was a warm human being as well. He really made his name as the frontman for TVNZ's evening flagship show Holmes.

Holmes certainly had his detractors, as would be expected in his line of work - let's face it, journalism is not the most loved profession. He was often controversial. He famously called United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan a "cheeky darkie", and incurred the wrath of Maori by labelling Waitangi Day the "loony Maori fringe self-denial day". His Annan comments, which provoked widespread outrage, were reported around the world.

Nothing surpassed his most controversial interview, with former America's Cup skipper Dennis Conner. Conner, known as "Dirty Dennis", walked out during the first Holmes show in 1989 after Holmes asked if he would apologise for calling New Zealand yacht designer Bruce Farr "a loser".

Holmes became a celebrity with the increasing popularity of his TV show - and with that came the expected scrutiny of his private life. He admitted alcoholism and affairs and, most recently, dealt with the drug problems of his troubled stepdaughter, Millie.

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What was strange about Holmes' death was the number of tributes paid to him before he died. It could be considered too morbid.

Mr Key and Mr Shearer made their comments to media. Good friends said public farewells, and TVNZ scheduled hour-long Holmes specials. Tariana Turia forgave Holmes for his comments about Waitangi Day. The only one who ungraciously wouldn't play along was Mr Conner. When asked whether he would like to pay tribute to Holmes, a spokesman for Conner said he "didn't give a rat's arse" about the dying broadcaster.

In the end, Holmes died with his family beside him. It was, as he'd said himself, the way he wanted to go.

- The Nelson Mail

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