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Sir Paul Holmes dies after a public life

10:00 Fri Feb 1 2013
AAP

Top-rating radio and television broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes has died.

Family were gathered around him when he died at his home in Hawke's Bay aged 62.

PHOTOS: The extraordinary life of Sir Paul Holmes

As much a celebrity as those he interviewed, his personal highs and lows have made headlines - including his battle with prostate cancer, a near-death experience in a helicopter accident and his wedding, as well as the marriage's disintegration.

Born on April 29, 1950, he grew up in Haumoana in Hawke's Bay and completed his education at Victoria University while also developing a career as an actor on radio, stage and screen.

In 1972 he joined the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation as an announcer in Christchurch.

A bright future was almost cut short with a near-fatal car accident in 1973, in which he suffered a neck fracture, brain haemorrhage and lost vision in his right eye.

He recovered after several weeks in hospital and re-launched his radio career, working in Britain, Europe and the United States for much of the 1970s.

Holmes returned to New Zealand in 1985 and hit the radio waves again, hosting several shows, including on Newstalk ZB and, in April 1989, he took on television with his namesake 7pm show, Holmes.

The first episode of Holmes 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 Holmes.

That same year, Holmes survived a fatal helicopter crash into the ocean off the North Island's east coast.

One man died but Holmes survived and swam to shore.

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

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

But just five years later it was all over, as Holmes left his wife for 25-year-old television reporter Fleur Revell.

Their relationship was brief and ended badly under an intense media spotlight.

Holmes wed again and his marriage to Deborah Hamilton-Holmes has lasted nine years before his death.

In 1999, Holmes was diagnosed with prostate cancer but was unfazed by the health scare, telling media: "I've fought bigger, badder bastards than this one. I'm not going to be beaten by this."

A decade later, Holmes' personal life was dragged back into the public eye when his step-daughter, Millie Holmes Elder, was arrested on cannabis and methamphetamine charges.

The charges were later dropped and Millie faced a high-profile battle to get clean, while Holmes became a crusader against methamphetamine.

Throughout his career, Holmes was both lauded and criticised by media analysts and had run-ins with the Broadcasting Standards Authority and Press Council.

In 2003, he hit global headlines for one of his most memorable on-air remarks, referring to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie" on radio, which led Mitsubishi to axe its major sponsorship of his TVNZ show.

Holmes apologised several times over the comment.

That same year, Holmes was made a companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to broadcasting and the community.

He again came under fire in February 2012 over an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald where he called Waitangi Day "loony Maori fringe self-denial day", and said the day should be scrapped.

Around the same time, Holmes' health began to fail.

He underwent open heart surgery for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that thickens the heart muscle, making it harder to pump blood. The prostate cancer also returned.

In October 2012, he was hospitalised again after contracting an infection, and two months later, he retired from his 35-year broadcasting career because of his illness.

Throughout his media career, Holmes received numerous awards and covered major New Zealand stories including the Aramoana massacre, and also international stories such as terrorist attacks against the USA and the death of Princess Diana.

He also wrote a book on the Erebus disaster, hoping to exonerate the pilots who were blamed for the crash.

Shortly before his death, Holmes was knighted in the 2012 New Year's Honours list for his services to broadcasting and the community.

His investiture ceremony was brought forward to January 16 due to his ailing health, with Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae knighting him at home in Hawke's Bay.