DJ buckled under pressure
Partner Melanie tells inquest she begged him to visit hospital
Published 11/12/2010 | 05:00
'Gerry said we needed to go right now. He didn't sleep at all that night. He sweated so much I had to change the sheets'
ALWAYS a showman, the consummate professional, friends who met Gerry Ryan on the night of his death described him as being in "good form".
But behind closed doors, the broadcaster was buckling under pressure from all sides.
His partner Melanie Verwoerd revealed for the first time just how ill the 53-year-old was in the two weeks leading up to his death.
She gave a heartrending account of her numerous attempts to get him to visit the hospital -- but he dismissed her concerns, saying he was merely "stressed".
However, his symptoms were escalating and he was regularly suffering heart palpitations, dizziness, vomiting and sleepless nights.
"He was extremely unwell and under an extreme amount of stress in the last few months, particularly in the last two weeks," she told the inquest.
"He was trying to sort out the terms of his separation."
Ms Verwoerd added that he was under "enormous pressure from RTE and his work", as well as feeling the effects of the recession.
"He was under enormous financial pressure and it started to take a toll. In the last two weeks, he barely slept, ever."
She described how he would wake between 3am and 5am every night for the last 10 days of his life.
During those late-night waking hours, he suffered heart palpitations and breathlessness. Bouts of dizziness began to affect him during the day.
"I begged him to go to the doctor but he said it was just panic attacks."
Ms Verwoerd said his distress would become all the greater "on nights when he was disturbed by texts or phone calls, particularly if they were aggressive" -- but she did not go into detail about who made the distressing calls or sent the texts.
"He'd go grey and complain of pressure in his heart," she said, her head bowed.
"Afterwards, he'd have severe stomach cramps and long bouts of vomiting."
In the fortnight before his body was found in the apartment in Upper Leeson Street, he was exhausted.
"He found it extremely hard to get up and needed help to go to the shower.
"There was a change in policy in relation to sick leave in RTE," she said, adding that he felt it would send out the wrong message if he didn't go in, even when he was feeling ill.
"It is most important to remember that Gerry was a showman, that he wanted to keep the face up," she said.
But behind the scenes, he couldn't maintain the show.
The couple had devised a signal which Mr Ryan would use when he was feeling the strain. When Ms Verwoerd saw the signal, she knew it was time to leave wherever they were -- immediately.
"We'd get into a taxi and he'd basically collapse."
On the Monday before his death, Mr Ryan met with his financial adviser. Ms Verwoerd said it did not go well.
"During the meeting he felt so dizzy. He had to go to the bathroom because he thought he was going to pass out."
But ever the professional, he wanted to keep his promise to attend an event in Bewleys Hotel in Ballsbridge on the Tuesday. He didn't want to go home afterwards and the couple went to the Four Seasons Hotel, where Mr Ryan regularly met friends.
"He gave me the sign, said we needed to go right now. He didn't sleep at all that night. He sweated so much I had to change the sheets."
She wanted him to go to A&E but he refused.
On Wednesday, she begged him not to go to work -- but in the end it was she who didn't go to work as she agreed to meet his financial adviser to see if he could "work out some sort of financial plan".
He turned grey after lunch and she became so concerned that when he fell asleep she called his GP to express her concern. He prescribed Xanax and sleeping pills.
Later Mr Ryan took a Xanax, a drug used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks, and said he felt better. But they later had to leave early from her son's school event. He took a sleeping pill and she said he slept well and went to work the next day.
"He went on the programme and, like always, sounded well."
But afterwards, he told her he was concerned about his finances, was very worried and very, very stressed.
That night -- less than 24 hours before his body was found -- he met his friend David Kavanagh at the Four Seasons Hotel.
In his evidence, Mr Kavanagh said they went to the Town Bar and Grill restaurant afterwards.
But Mr Ryan's accountant -- who did not give evidence -- rang Ms Verwoerd at 7.30pm. She said she had seen Mr Ryan and that he didn't seem well.
Ms Verwoerd called him immediately and he told her he was "at David's house" and that they were on their way to the restaurant.
"He was agitated, I asked him if he was well enough to go out," she said, but he told her that for professional reasons he felt he had to go.
Their last conversation was at 11.40pm when he told her he wasn't sure if he was going to make it in for his programme the next day.
"He used a very Gerry phrase," she said. "He said, 'I'm totally banjaxed.'"
The last person he spoke to was his series producer, Alice O'Sullivan. She told the inquest he had left a message. She called him back and he told her he didn't think he would make it in the following morning.
"He said he was exhausted, just wrecked. I told him to take the day off and get a good rest over the weekend. He was relieved. He said, 'I owe you one.'"
Just hours after that conversation, Gerry suffered a cardiac arrhythmia and died.
Ms Verwoerd tried to call him 14 times that fateful Friday morning, but there was no answer. It was less than two hours after he was confirmed dead that a shocked nation learnt that one of its most famous broadcasters had passed away.