Broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes dies at 62

Veteran broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes died peacefully at home this morning, only two weeks after receiving his knighthood. He was aged 62.

A statement from the Holmes family said he died at home in Hawkes Bay surrounded by his family according to his wishes.

"Sir Paul had been in poor health since having heart surgery earlier in the year. In recent months he had also been suffering from a resurgence of prostate cancer," the statement said.

"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. They request privacy from the media as they now grieve.

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

Photo gallery: Sir Paul Holmes: Through the years

Sir Paul rose through the ranks of media in New Zealand, and not long into fronting his self-named TVNZ current affairs show became as much a celebrity as those he interviewed.

As his popularity grew, his personal highs and lows also made headlines. Every twist and turn in his life became public property, including a battle with prostate cancer and a near-death experience in a helicopter crash.

More recently it was again his health that made headlines; his career was put on hold when his cancer returned early last year and he underwent open-heart surgery in June.

He briefly returned to the country's screens and airwaves, but in December he announced he was retiring from broadcasting because of poor health.

An unexpected phone call from Prime Minister John Key on Christmas Day ended Sir Paul's "annus horribilis" with an "unexpected, wonderful" gift in the form of a knighthood.

Sir Paul was born on April 29, 1950 to Christina and Henry. He grew up in Haumoana, Hawkes Bay with his parents and brother Ken and went to school in Hastings.

In 1972 he completed a BA at Victoria University and joined the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation as an announcer in Christchurch.

A bright future was almost cut short when he was involved in a near-fatal car crash in 1973. He suffered a neck fracture, brain haemorrhage and lost vision in his right eye. He recovered after several weeks in hospital and relaunched his radio career.

In 1976, while hosting the overnight slot at Radio New Zealand, he made a prank call to the Archbishop of Canterbury, resulting in his dismissal from the job.

Timeline: The life and times of Sir Paul Holmes

"Although I have been told that your performance in the past has been satisfactory, you can regard your recent behaviour as having put an end to your usefulness to Radio New Zealand," wrote Director-General J L Hartstronge.

Sacked and free, the young broadcaster set off on his OE.

He returned to New Zealand in 1985 and hit the radio waves again, hosting several shows on 2ZB, which later became Newstalk ZB.

In 1987, Auckland's 1ZB's breakfast host Merv Smith walked out, so Paul Holmes was called in to become the breakfast host of the soon-to-be newly formatted Newstalk ZB.

"The first months sitting in the same chair Merv had used, in front of the same console, were disastrous. Aucklanders could stand neither me nor the format," he wrote in a column after he left the breakfast slot in 2008.

In April 1989 he also took on television. The first episode of Holmes, a current affairs show, saw America's Cup skipper Dennis Conner walk off the set, and the nation divided over the confrontational-style interview. The show set the love/hate relationship the New Zealand public was to have with Paul Holmes.

When he turned 60 he wrote that nothing could have prepared him for the controversy over the interview, saying ''... the uproar it caused remains as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday'.'

Editorial: Holmes was charming, challenging, entertaining

In the same year he again made headlines when the helicopter he was travelling in crashed into the ocean off the North Island's east coast, killing a man. Paul Holmes survived and swam to shore.

In 1991 he became a father as his partner Hinemoa Elder gave birth to her second child, Reuben.

The couple married on a hotel rooftop in 1992. The glittering event was attended by political heavyweights Jim Bolger, Mike Moore, Helen Clark and Judith Tizard.

Five years later it was all over, as Sir Paul left his wife for 25-year-old television reporter Fleur Revell. Elder went on to become a doctor.

The relationship with Revell was brief and ended badly under an intense media spotlight.

In recent years he had been living with his current wife, Deborah, at a Hawkes Bay farm with gardens and thousands of olive trees.

Updated tributes: Sir Paul Holmes

Sir Paul never shied away from attention and could be accused of seeking it, publishing an autobiography in 1999.

He also made a music CD which reportedly broke store return records. He defended it, saying profits went to charity.

He supported the Paralympics for 20 years and made two documentaries about the competition.

He also led the fight against methamphetamine, or P, by championing the Stellar Trust, which he helped launch in the midst of his adopted daughter Millie Elder's very public battle with the drug.

In 2011 he published another book, Daughters of Erebus, a reassessment of the cause of the 1979 disaster in which an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board.

Sir Paul was both lauded and criticised by media analysts during his career.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority had more than one run-in with Holmes. Regarding one story about NZ's so-called brain drain, the BSA said: "In his enthusiasm for the story the presenter failed to demonstrate the impartiality required of him."

His salary was reported to be more than $770,000, prompting former prime minister David Lange to say he would "dance naked on a table" for Holmes' salary.

Jim Bolger, another former prime minister, said: "The more Paul Holmes is paid, the more trivial his show becomes."

Holmes left the show in 2004 after failed contract negotiations.

Critics aside, Sir Paul received awards for his work in the media - including for radio, television and as a columnist. He covered major New Zealand stories including the Aramoana massacre, and also international stories such as the terrorist attacks against the US and the death of Princess Diana.

Photo gallery: Sir Paul Holmes knighted

In 2003 he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to broadcasting and the community.

He made the headlines again that year but this time the coverage was negative. On his Newstalk ZB talkshow in September, Holmes described United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie". He also suggested that newspapers might be more judgmental at certain times of the month because of the high number of women journalists employed in the industry.

The comments, which provoked widespread outrage and led to Mitsubishi axing its sponsorship of TVNZ's evening Holmes show, were reported around the world. The sponsorship was reportedly worth $1 million.

In 2009 Sir Paul began hosting TVNZ's political show Q+A. He had been writing a column for the Herald on Sunday before transferring to the New Zealand Herald.

It was his column for the latter in February last year (2012) which perhaps stirred up his last piece of controversy after tearing into Maori radicals and suggesting New Zealand should replace its national day, Waitangi Day, with Anzac Day.

Complaints to the New Zealand Press Council were upheld.

Following his open-heart surgery in June, Sir Paul wrote a personal account of what he had been through.

"I couldn't speak ... Not with the half-inch pipe down my throat. I couldn't sleep. Not for days. The staff urged me to try. But when I closed my eyes I saw only nightmare visions. It was unbearable. I was exhausted,'' he recounted.

"I've written this not to suggest I'm the only person who's ever had open heart surgery. Not at all. Please don't think that. But I've written it in good health, full of beans again, looking out on a golden spring day, the cold wind has gone and there is so much love in my life.

"What more could a man want?''

- APNZ

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