Broadcaster cheated death five times

Last updated 05:00 02/02/2013
Paul Holmes
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Sir Paul Holmes accepted his last battle was over, reports Marty Sharpe.

Mike Williams gave his old mate Sir Paul Holmes a farewell kiss on the cheek as he slept.

The next morning Sir Paul, 62, died at his Hawke's Bay home.

Sir Paul's prostate cancer returned last year, finally overwhelming him yesterday. He had also undergone heart surgery, with his poor health forcing him to end his television and radio career in December.

A late inclusion in the New Year honours list, Sir Paul was knighted in a special investiture in front of friends, family and dignitaries at his home last month.

In a statement his family said he died peacefully at home, just as he had wanted. "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."

His wife, Deborah, Lady Holmes, children Millie and Reuben, and brother Ken, thanked the public for their "incredible support" but said they now needed privacy to grieve.

As news spread, tributes came from politicians, colleagues and the public.

Prime Minister John Key said it was the end of a broadcasting era, labelling Sir Paul a "gentleman broadcaster".

Mr Williams, the former Labour Party president, said he met Sir Paul when they started at Hastings' Karamu High School together. He last saw him on Thursday.

"I went out in the morning at about nine. Deborah said he was asleep but said go and say goodbye. He was sleeping quite peacefully and something just sort of grabbed me and I kissed him on the cheek. I think maybe I did have an inkling," he said.

"It's strange. It's about now that schools go back, meaning it's about 50 years to the day that I met Paul."

Sir Paul had told him he had terminal cancer late last year, so he had spent as much time with him as possible.

"I went down there [Hawke's Bay] four or five times, including a long period over Christmas.

"There was plenty of time to talk about old times and reminisce.

"We went and had a picnic on the banks of the Tukituki River, which was almost too much for Paul, but he sat out in the sun for about three hours and we shot the breeze. Yes, there was plenty of time to say goodbye," he said.

"It makes you treasure every day.

"It's not a great innings, 62," Mr Williams said.

Sir Paul built his hugely successful broadcasting career on championing the underdog and holding authorities to account. But he knew he would lose his final battle with cancer, saying grimly at his investiture: "I don't think Houdini will do it this time."

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He had previously cheated death five times - twice in plane crashes, once in a helicopter crash, once in a car crash and once with prostate cancer.

He was 22 when he lost the sight in his right eye in a spectacular car crash off a mountain road near Kaikoura.

He spent five weeks in hospital with a fractured neck.

He later recounted walking through Hagley Park in Christchurch with his tearful mother and vowing to himself "to try to always be positive, always believe things would turn out for the better".

Twenty-four years ago Sir Paul and Wayne Johnson spurred each other on in a perilous swim through freezing waves to survive a fatal helicopter crash.

Mr Johnson, a cameraman, was one of five in the chopper that crashed into the sea off the East Coast in stormy conditions in June 1989. Another cameraman did not survive.

In his autobiography, Sir Paul recounted the high, cold waves and driving rain in the dark. He and Mr Johnson stayed close but couldn't see each other."I was nearly dead when I reached the shore, with no more than a few minutes of struggle left in me," Sir Paul said later.

The helicopter crash came three months after the Holmes show launched with the notorious interview of Dennis Conner of America's Cup fame, and preceded a 20-year period in which the broadcaster found fame and occasional infamy on TV and radio.

Despite the fatal helicopter crash, Sir Paul later gained a pilot's licence.

On New Year's Eve in 2004 he was lucky to walk away from the wreck of his beloved Boeing Stearman biplane, after flipping near Hastings. A year earlier he crashed the plane through a fence and down an incline on a remote station between Napier and Taihape.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999. He beat it, initially, with treatment and went on to front advertisements encouraging men to get check-ups.

- Waikato Times

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