'We were like brothers' – star director Sheridan leads tributes to pal Conlon
OSCAR-NOMINATED director Jim Sheridan said Gerry Conlon rid himself of his "demons by helping other people", in a moving tribute to his close friend.
Mr Conlon, who died on Saturday after battling cancer, was the inspiration for Sheridan's 1990 Academy Award-nominated film 'In the Name of the Father', which was based on the 'Guildford Four' man's autobiography 'Proved Innocent'.
The book and subsequent film chronicled Mr Conlon's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for the 1974 Guildford Bombing, his battle for justice and his release in 1989.
Mr Sheridan yesterday paid tribute to the 60-year-old campaigner who had spent the past number of years seeking justice for others who had been wrongfully jailed. "We fought, we were pals, we had a mad relationship, like brothers," he said.
"I met him in New York six months ago, and we had a great day. He was in great form, and all he was talking about were people who were locked up, who he could help.
"He got rid of his demons by helping other people, and he had enormous respect for campaigning lawyer Gareth Pierce who worked on their case."
The director recalled how Conlon would appear on the set of 'In the Name of the Father', describing his presence as "like an electric storm".
"It was understandably an intense time for him, as I was taking his life story and putting it out there."
Sheridan, from Dublin, believes that the speech given by Gerry Conlon on the steps of the Old Bailey when the Guildford Four were released on October 18, 1989, was a moment of historic significance.
"He had huge charisma – he carried the day with that speech outside the court, and that's when the enormity of the injustice hit many people," he said.
Others who heaped praise on the late Mr Conlon included Belfast-born director and screenwriter Terry George, who co-wrote the script of 'In the Name of the Father' with Sheridan.
George hailed Conlon as "a unique character – funny, outrageous and full of dogged determination".
"Gerry had an extraordinary memory and could remember incidents from many years back, but the one thing he never forgot was that he was innocent, no matter what happened to him during his time in prison," he said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the loss of Conlon would "be felt within the community in west Belfast and across the world with all those who work in the pursuit of justice".
Others who expressed their sympathies include former foreign affairs minister Brendan Smith and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.