BROADCASTER Gerry Ryan was discovered dead beside his bed yesterday after his partner and a builder forced entry into his luxury apartment.
A post-mortem is not expected to take place until the middle of next week due to the bank holiday, but it is believed the 53-year-old star suffered a heart attack.
Ryan, who separated from his wife Morah two years ago, had five children ranging in age from 10 to 24 years.
In a brief statement issued on their behalf by RTE, the broadcaster's family said they were in shock.
" Gerry Ryan died today," it simply said. "Morah and his children are in complete shock. Please respect their privacy."
Ryan had informed his production team late on Thursday night that he was unwell and would not host his radio show the following morning.
He also cancelled an appearance at the Gate Theatre and a meeting with the producer of 'Ryan Confidential', which aired at 10.15pm on RTE television on Thursday.
It is understood his partner, Melanie Verwoerd, became concerned when his production crew had been unable to contact him yesterday morning.
Ms Verwoerd, a former South African ambassador, made her way to the apartment at Upper Leeson Street -- where Mr Ryan lived alone -- at approximately 12.30pm.
A builder working nearby forced the door to help her gain entry. Mr Ryan's body was found beside his bed.
"There were no marks on the body, and no sign of a break-in or anything suspicious," a source told the Irish Independent. Fire brigade and ambulance crews were quickly on the scene. Gardai are investigating the sudden death, but foul play is not suspected.
President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Brian Cowen led tributes to the broadcaster last night. "Gerry was an extraordinarily talented broadcaster whose unique communication skills and larger-than-life persona entertained and enlivened a national audience over many years," Mrs McAleese said.
Mr Cowen said Ryan was "informed and intelligent, forthright and articulate" as a broadcaster.
"As a man, he was generous, famously irreverent and witty. I had had the pleasure of meeting him many times, both in front of and away from the microphone," he said. "He was always engaging company and a man of considerable charm."
Fellow RTE broadcaster Joe Duffy choked back tears live on air yesterday afternoon as he recalled the "bold schoolboy" he first met in 1979 at Trinity College, Dublin. "He was the best company you could ever have. He was bold in every sense of the meaning of that word. He was brave in his broadcasting, he was brave in his life," Duffy said. Ryan was consistently one of RTE's most popular presenters. He was the station's second-highest paid broadcaster with a salary of €558,000 in 2008.
In addition to his popular radio programme, the broadcaster presented a host of television programmes including 'Ryan Confidential', 'Gerry Ryan Tonight', 'Ryantown' and 'Operation Transformation', after joining RTE in 1979.
He had previously studied law at Trinity.
The first suggestion he had died emerged in media circles at around lunchtime yesterday. Newstalk radio carried the story at 2.30pm.
Ryan's eldest daughter Charlotte (24) is understood to be in America while his son Elliott (14) was at school.
RTE said last night that it held off on announcing the death out of respect for his family.
"We won't be driven to put material out there at a time that is inappropriate," Claire Duignan, RTE director of radio, said. "It is unfortunate that other media didn't show the same respect."
RTE did not broadcast anything about his death until 3.30pm, although his colleague Miriam O'Callaghan confirmed his death on her Twitter page an hour previously.
"Tragically it is true," she said. "So terribly shocking and sad. Life is just too cruel sometimes. RIP." She later deleted the tweet.
His RTE colleague and close friend Dave Fanning described Ryan as the "funniest man" he had ever met in his life and a wonderful family man.
BBC Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans, who credited Ryan with saving his radio career when he tuned into his show while on a fishing holiday in Ireland, described him as "absolutely one of the best broadcasters in the world".