Farewell to Bert Newton - The TV legend who 'gave us so much joy'

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Australia lost a TV and entertainment legend when Bert Newton passed away at the age of 83.

Growing up in Australia it was hard to miss the father of Australian television. Regardless of your age, you either heard him on the radio, saw him introducing the new talent in New Faces, watched him interview the luminaries of the day, watched him on stage or saw him hosting major events like the Logie Awards.

Bert Newton
Bert Newton passed away at the age of 83. Photo: Getty Images

"It's very, very devastating. All our hearts are breaking because he was just the most wonderful man," his wife of 47 years Patti told the press outside the couple's Hawthorn East home after his death was announced.

"He had such a fabulous attitude," Patti added. "And he gave us so much joy right up to the end."

But things could have been very different if Bert had ended up in his first choice of career. Going to school at St Joseph's Marist Brothers College, Roman Catholic Bert thought he would become a priest. 

However, when his mother sent him to boy scouts after his father's death, he got involved in the Scouting Around radio show and he was hooked. He went on to paid radio gigs from the tender age of 15 which propelled him into a career in the media.

Bert Newton at the International Toys and Sporting Goods Trade Fair in Sydney
Bert Newton at the International Toys and Sporting Goods Trade Fair in Sydney in 1974. Photo: Getty Images

With television launching in Australia in 1956, Bert quickly moved over to the new medium where he carved out a career for himself.

In 1959, Bert and his close friend Graham Kennedy would perform live commercials on In Melbourne Tonight, a show that Graham hosted.  

And while he started off as the sidekick to comedians such as Graham Kennedy and Don Lane, his generosity and quick wit as a performer and kindness as a person quickly propelled him into the limelight.

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Bert Newton on the set of Doctors and Nurses
Bert Newton on the set of Doctors and Nurses with Pamela Stephenson in 1981. Photo: Getty Images

But life in the media spotlight wasn't always easy for Bert. The attention lead to a breakdown and time in a psychiatric ward in 1964 where he was treated with the drug LSD.

"Before my illness, I’d had this instinctive feeling that there was only one me ever and that I could never be replaced," he said about his time out of the limelight. "But I learned that, as long as the show goes on, new people are found. The king is dead, long live the king." 

It is hard to imagine his life without wife Patti, but while he met singer and dancer Patti McGrath when they were young, they didn't marry until 1974. In fact, he was engaged to TV personality Susan-Gaye Anderson in the early 60s.

Their wedding was a huge event and Graham Kennedy served as his best man. The couple went on to have two children together, daughter Lauren and son Matthew.

Golden Logie winner for 1981 Bert Newton and his wife Petty, arrive at Ansett terminal for flight home to Melbourne
1981 Golden Logie winner Bert Newton with his wife Patti. Photo: Getty Images

Patti joined Bert on many of his shows after they wed and there wasn't a commercial TV channel in Australia that Bert did not appear on. He won a total of four Gold Logies, was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame in 1988 and presented the Logies a record 19 times.

But he still had struggles ahead of him. Despite his popularity, he was almost declared bankrupt in 1993 after he racked up $1 million dollars in debt gambling. His fans were shocked but the all-round nice guy recovered with the help of family and friends.

Bert and Patti Newton at home
Patti Newton has been married to fellow Australian entertainer Bert Newton since 9 November 1974. Photo: Getty Images

"Sometimes it's overrated that you can't have a private life. I know exactly where to go if I want to be driven mad, but also I know where to go just to have a quiet time," he told The Age. "It does help if you like people and I do like people. I suppose I am in many respects a private person. But most of the people who had early success have been like that."

In 2006, Patti and Bert's son Matthew, an actor and director, was arrested for alleged assault in relation to his then-girlfriend actor Brooke Satchwell. It resulted in the couple's son revealing he had bipolar disorder and has lead to more controversies, which the couple have found difficult.

Matthew Newton arriving at the 2009 GQ Men Of The Year Awards
Bert and Patti's son, actor Matthew Newton arriving at the 2009 GQ Men Of The Year Awards. Photo: Getty Images
Prime Minister Paul Keating appears on the Bert Newton Show
Prime Minister Paul Keating appears on the Bert Newton Show during the 1996 federal election campaign. Photo: Getty ImagesPhoto: Getty Images

But Bert remained a firm family favourite on both prime time and morning television. "To me, television is where I belong," Bert once said.

In 2008 he got the opportunity to perform on stage in the Melbourne production of Wicked. He jumped at the chance and started to carve out a new niche for himself. While acting wasn't new, he'd starred in the films Fatty Finn and Doctors and Nurses in the early 80s, performing in musicals was but audiences loved him as much as he loved performing on stage.

"I've always loved the theatre," he told The Age in 2002. "I've had a number of chances over the years to do theatre but couldn't because I was working in television at nights. But now I can combine them both."

He went on to also perform in touring productions of Wicked, Annie, Grease and The Rocky Horror Show

Bert Newton on stage in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and in Grease
Bert Newton loved appearing on stage. Here he is in Rocky Horror as the narrator and as Vince Fontaine in Grease. Photo: Getty Images

In 2012 the unthinkable happened, Bert had a quadruple heart bypass and his ill health forced him into retirement which can't of been easy for Bert.

"I'm not that sort of person (to retire, sit in the sun and take it easy). I want to go on for as long as I possibly can," he told The Age in 2003.

A serious bout of pneumonia followed in 2017 and then in 2020 a toe infection as a result of diabetes lead to him having to get his leg amputated below the knee to save his life.

"He got through the operation, it was huge. It was needed, he had a choice and his choice was to live," Patti told Nine News at the time.

"He's got a big journey ahead of him – as we all have – but you know Bert, it’s onward and upward,” she added.

Bert and Patti with daughter Lauren, her husband Matt Welsh and their six grandchildren.
Bert and Patti with daughter Lauren, her husband Matt Welsh and their six grandchildren. Photo: instagram/@pattinewtonofficial
Bert with five of his six grandchildren in hospital.
Bert with five of his six grandchildren in hospital. Photo: instagram/@pattinewtonofficial

Sadly Bert passed away in palliative care on Saturday 30th October 2021.

But the man Bob Hope once described as "the Bob Hope of Australia", still left some secrets until after his passing.

Entertainment reporter Peter Ford, a long-time friend of Bert's, revealed that the kind-hearted TV legend gifted one of his prized Gold Logies to a man dying of AIDS to cheer him up about 30 years ago.

"I rang Bert and I said, 'I can't believe you did that' and he said, 'Of course, but you can't ever report that till I've carked it,'" Peter revealed.

An apt postscript for a man who loved to light up the lives of others.

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