The last surviving member of the famed Howard Morrison Quartet has died.
Wi Wharekura passed away peacefully at his home on the Gold Coast, according to his son Phil.
Phil is one of Wharekura's four children, and together with his siblings Lindy, Angela and Dean, said his father would be deeply missed.
"He had been suffering from a chest infection for the last couple of weeks but was otherwise in fairly good health," he said. "It was a surprise for us all."
"Dad has been here on the Gold Coast with his long-term partner Sheryn and lived a very full life right up until he passed.
"In April he celebrated his 80th birthday on stage with the Koi Boys and had a fantastic time. He spent Wednesday night cheering for the Blues watching State of Origin."
Phil said right up to the end, to speak to Wharekura on the phone, you would not believe he had been ill.
"He was the same funny, engaging, witty person he always was and we will miss him deeply."
Rotorua's Howie Morrison Jnr, the son of founding quartet member Sir Howard Morrison, said he felt blessed to have spent time with "Uncle Wi".
"Unfortunately I didn't make it over to the Gold Coast for the party but saw the photos and thought Uncle Wi would be around for his 90th," Morrison said.
Morrison is travelling to the Gold Coast on Sunday for the funeral service but expected Wharekura's ashes to come back to Rotorua where another service would be held.
In the process of penning his father's life, Morrison said he felt blessed to have spent time with Wharekura since he started his writing journey.
"I spent a week with Uncle Wi and in that time he altered a lot of the stories my dad had told me," Morrison laughed.
The Howard Morrison Quarter, originally named the Ohinemutu Quartet, was one of the leading New Zealand show business acts in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Formed by Sir Howard Morrison, the quartet also included Wharekura, Gerry Merito and Noel Kingi. In 1958 the quartet became part of Benny Levin's touring "Pop Jamboree" and a recording they made of Hoki Mai/Po Karekare Ana, sold exceptionally well.
In 1959 their parody of The Battle of New Orleans, recorded as The battle of Waikato, became one of their biggest hits.
In the 1960s they were so popular they released 13 singles, three EPs and two LPs.
"The Quartet really did pave the wave for the New Zealand music industry," Morrison said. "They opened a lot of doors others walked through."
He said the band accomplished many firsts for New Zealand music.
"They were the first to sell 30,000 copies. Then the first to sell 50,000 copies. They sang for the Queen and, despite being asked not to sing her a Māori song, they sung her a Māori song.
"They were the first to perform live on television, the first to record an album live and the first to travel to Australia."
When Morrison was speaking with Wharekura, the conversation turned to the annual Miss New Zealand touring shows the quartet was involved with for some years.
"He wouldn't divulge too much except to say they had to spend eight years consoling beautiful, young women when they did not make the cut," Morrison laughed.
He described Wharekura as the "Mr Charisma" of the group. "I mean they were all charismatic but Uncle Wi stood out. Dad was Mr Flamboyant, Jerry was the comic and Noel was perhaps the base of the quarter, but Wi was definitely Mr Charisma."
He said it was sad to see the last of the quartet pass. Wharekura had flown from the Gold Coast to speak at Sir Howard Morrison's tangi in 2009.
"I'm hoping my book will capture the essence of the quartet and the heights they reached.
Rotorua district councillor Trevor Maxwell said he was saddened by the news of Wharekura's death and said his heart was with the family.
"I am so pleased I went to Wi's 80th birthday in April," Maxwell said. "There was quite a large contingent of whānau and friend's who made the journey to Surfers Paradise for the celebration."
He said Wharekura was up singing with the Koi Boys late into the evening.
"He was so energetic and full of life during the five days we had with him. He had great plans for a cultural centre and even took us out to the site to see it. I thought he'd be around for many more years to come."
Maxwell said he had spent a lot of time on stage and in theatres with Wharekura and described him as a great man.