Rugby legend Peter Fatialofa, who died this week aged 54, completed a final journey last night in the back of his piano moving van.
Dozens of people gathered quietly at Auckland International Airport to greet the family returning with his body, escorted by former rugby international Dylan Mika.
He had spent the night before his death with Fatialofa watching the Melbourne Cup.
Fatialofa’s body was handed over to his family at a cargo shed where he was, with dignity and respect, loaded onto a big blue van bearing the words "Peter Fats Piano & Furniture Removal specialist".
Earlier on Thursday at a requiem mass in Samoa, the Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese, stood beside an open casket and hugged the body in farewell.
Hundreds farewelled Fatialofa from Samoa as his remains were put on board an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland ahead of a Catholic funeral next week in Mangere.
New Zealand singer Anika Moa tweeted from Faleolo Airport: “Watching the Peter Fatialofa funeral procession at Samoa airport! He is on our flight. RIP. X”.
News website Talamua said a requiem mass was held at Vaivase Tai in Apia yesterday morning.
The Head of State, cabinet ministers, members of the diplomatic corps and students of St Joseph’s and Avele colleges were amongst friends and relatives who attended the requiem mass.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who is from the same village of Lepa as Fatialofa, is overseas. Auckland Mayor Len Brown holds a matai or chiefly title from the same village.
A family service will be held at the Manukau Events Centre at 6pm on Tuesday followed next day by a funeral at 10am.
It is suspected that Fatialofa died from a heart attack when he stopped at shop between 6:30 to 7am yesterday.
The Samoa Observer reported that when close friends, colleagues and fans learned of his passing, they gathered at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Chapel to take one last look at a man known to many as "a true Samoan legend".
A nephew, Tauaa Vaalele Faletoi, said he was stunned when a family member called him that Fatialofa had been taken to the hospital but was already dead.
"All his brothers and sisters are in New Zealand - his father and mine are brothers."
Tauaa said Anne, Fatialofa’s widow has contacted them to have his body sent over to New Zealand for burial.
"This is what his wife and children want and I plan to hold a family service for him here before his body is flown off to New Zealand."
He said the doctors who attended to Fatialofa when he was brought to the hospital requested that an autopsy be conducted.
They were informed by Tauaa that this was not necessary because he didn’t die as a result of an accident or other incident.
"I suspect that he has been careless with his pills and this was confirmed to me when the doctors showed me his medication."
The doctors suspect that Fatialofa died from a heart attack, said Tauaa.
"Police informed me that they took his body out from the car and brought him here to the hospital."
Fatialofa played for Manu Samoa between 1988 and 1996, making 34 test appearances.
He played in two World Cups, most famously leading Samoa into the quarterfinals in the 1991 tournament, with a huge upset win over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.
The Ponsonby club stalwart played 72 games for Auckland and was part of their stunning Ranfurly Shield reign from 1985 to 1993.
The burly prop was often the custodian of the Log o' Wood and became a cult figure with his strength honed from working his furniture removal business and became known as New Zealand's most famous piano-mover.
- Fairfax Media