Gerry's role in helping Lavinia Kerwick was one of the greatest moments in Irish broadcasting
The documentary on Gerry Ryan led to a minor epiphany for Joe Jackson as it reminded him of just how good the late broadcaster could be at doing his job
Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00
LIKE most people in Ireland, and maybe more than most, I was anxious to see if last Monday's RTE documentary Gerry, about Gerry Ryan, would address the subject of his cocaine habit. The trailer suggested it wouldn't, particularly when friend Harry Crosbie said "He lived life at 300mph" and didn't add, arguably, the caveat, "Like many who use coke until they stop or it kills them."
I also was fully aware that the programme was produced by another of Gerry's friends, and the producer of Ryan Confidential, David Blake-Knox; that most of interviews were filmed before Ryan's inquest showed he died from coke; and that RTE Arts Lives documentaries sometimes tend to be tediously hagiographic. So, I was not hopeful that this show would tell us all we need to know about Mr Ryan.
And my fears seemed well founded from the start of the programme when, in a three-minute preface that clearly was stitched into the show over the past fortnight, the cocaine controversy was glossed over, then tossed aside as we moved on to celebrating Gerry's life and career.
Even so, what followed led to a little epiphany, for me. You see, I am one of those who never followed Ryan's career and needed to be reminded of how brave, innovative, socially relevant, cobweb-shaking and universally therapeutic the guy could be as a broadcaster, which is something that has been swamped by all this recent
talk, in part by myself, about Gerry and cocaine.
I never listened to his radio show. Apart from a few occasions such as the time I heard Ryan interview a woman who had seen Garth Brooks in concert the night before and was talking about his "beautiful songs" when Gerry cut across and asked, "yeah, but would you ride him?" That, to me, was crass. Likewise, I knew Gerry could be as crude and even verbally abusive in private and had said things to three females I know, which made me question his legendary ability to "empathise with" women.
However, last Monday, all of this was thrown into question for me when I discovered the role Gerry Ryan had played in helping rape victim Lavinia Kerwick give vent to her rage at the fact that her attacker was to be given his freedom. Also, when I heard Gerry not only console this young woman but wean her away from thoughts of suicide. It was one of the greatest moments in Irish broadcasting. And if that single act was all Gerry ever did, his life and career would deserve to be eulogised, as it was in the weeks after his death and again during this programme.
Thankfully this tendency was counterbalanced, slightly, by a gloriously hirsute Dave Fanning, who brought a shot of truth to proceedings by saying Ryan could be "a pain in the arse" and had a "massive, over-inflated opinion of himself". Fuelled, at least in part, I suspect, by cocaine. Fanning, also got it so right, I reckon, when he suggested that even Ryan himself would probably have come back after two weeks of the eulogising following his death and said, "Would someone come out and tell the truth, I'm nowhere near a saint."
Yet, when Fiona Looney -- one of the few of Ryan's friends who now admits she knew he used coke -- talked about those days when Gerry, Mark Cagney, and Fanning were the DJ kingpins of Radio Two, I couldn't help but wish that someone, Cagney perhaps, had pointed out it probably was at this stage Ryan began using coke and, as such, slowly paving a path towards his death.
Similarly, even though the last section of the show, did touch upon the medical consequences of cocaine use, none of Ryan's close friends, even Looney,
directly addressed the issue in relation to the fact that coke had killed their buddy. And so, it was left to Fr Brian D'Arcy, an acquaintance of Ryan, to remind us that by being involved in cocaine circles, Gerry was contributing to the world of criminal activity and of murder. That sure as hell made the subject of the public outcry at Ryan once falsely claiming to have killed a lamb fall into focus. If, as some have already said, Gerry, (the TV show), was little more than chewing gum for the eyes -- a critical analysis with which I don't totally agree -- this was like a razor blade hidden in the chewing gum.
But in the end, the most moving and memorable moments were those that featured Gerry's wife Morah, son Rex, and daughter Lottie, all of whom made their love for the man so manifest it was a joy to watch, even though Morah, in particular, seemed heartbreakingly fragile, with every word she spoke, and every smile, patently forged in the sorrow of a profound sense of loss.
And here I must say, that if I have added to that familial pain, with anything I have written, or said, since the result of Gerry Ryan's inquest became public knowledge, I am genuinely sorry.