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When musician Chris Knox first heard he was going to be named an Arts Foundation Laureate, he couldn't respond - verbally.

The Aucklander, who helmed legendary punk bands The Enemy, Toy Love and Tall Dwarfs, was told about the $50,000 award just three days after suffering a debilitating stroke, which left him unable to speak.

But his partner, Barbara Ward, who delivered the news to him in hospital, says his eyes spoke volumes.

"The decision to give the laureate was made back in March," she said. "Chris had his stroke in June and we heard shortly after that.

"The foundation made a special compassionate arrangement to communicate this to us earlier and it was profoundly moving to receive that call.

"When you are in that situation, your world has been turned upside down and the future is completely unknown.

"When we told Chris, his eyes just shone. It was a very beautiful and moving moment because in amongst all the uncertainty came this piece of information which was recognising Chris and the work that he'd done."

Knox, 57, attended a media call yesterday with fellow laureates carver Lyonel Grant, musician Richard Nunns, photographer Anne Noble and writer Witi Ihimaera.

Still undergoing residential rehabilitation, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony last night. His honour was received on his behalf by friends Roger Shepherd, founder of Flying Nun records, and music journalist Nick Bollinger.

The Laureate Awards, founded in 2000 by the Arts Foundation, a privately sponsored arts patronage organisation, are given to five established artists each year.

Foundation executive director Simon Bowden said the selection panel chose Knox not only for his work in music, but also for his contributions to film, video and television and for his art work and comic drawings.

"He is loved throughout the music community in New Zealand and he also has an extraordinary international reputation," Mr Bowden said.

"The laureate is also an investment in future work. The Arts Foundation, along with everyone else, is concerned about the tragic circumstances surrounding the stroke.

"However, we have found through experience that artists, especially ones as talented as Chris, carry on giving us great things from whatever capacity they have got."

It's a busy week for Knox. A double tribute album called Stroke, comprising cover versions of his songs recorded by musicians from New Zealand and overseas, was released on Monday.

A Stroke party-benefit gig at the King's Arms is planned for Friday night. Proceeds will go towards the cost of Knox's rehabilitation.

And his much-loved cartoon character Max Media, who has been "resting" since mid-June, makes an appearance in tomorrow's Timeout section in the Herald.