News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

Time to realise we need to talk honestly about Gerry

After gushing eulogy in the wake of his death, Ryan's friends are now bonded in silence, writes Niamh Horan

Published 19/12/2010 | 05:00

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WHERE have all Gerry Ryan's friends gone? The ones who broadcasted gushing tributes to the star within hours of his death?

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The same tight-knit group who enjoyed boozy lunches with the larger-than-life DJ or a late-night whiskey in the Four Seasons. Who mourned at his funeral and vowed life would never be the same again.

What a difference six months -- and an ounce of coke -- make.

The reams of text messages come in: "no comment".

Phone calls go unanswered; some usually mild-mannered contacts lose their temper; promises to return calls are broken and few will even speak off-the-record.

When one of Gerry's inner circle finally makes contact, the message is clear: "Just let it go. Move on. Everyone wants this buried now."

The only member of his RTE family to agree to a comment is Brenda Donohue.

She tells me politely that, "It's for the sake of his beautiful family more than anything else."

Her reasons sound genuine -- those of others, it feels, not so much. Protestations to those who knew him well that this is a golden opportunity to use the cocaine-induced death of one of Ireland's biggest stars to highlight the dangers of the drug are scoffed at.

Effectively, it's social and career suicide.

If you break through the wall of silence you will be frozen out. As radio presenter Gareth O'Callaghan discovered when he dared to put his head above the parapet following the inquest.

Since then he says he has been labelled "an idiot" by a highly respected RTE presenter, become the victim of sinister cold calls from anonymous individuals who have snarled down the phone "who the f*** do you think you are?" and has been dropped by so-called friends.

"My phone has been quiet all week. I haven't even been asked by friends in the business for the usual drink," he tells me. "I have heard the message has gone out by [he names a well-respected RTE presenter] that they all have to sing from the same hymn sheet and I am seen as the black sheep."

It's a far cry from the immediate aftermath of the star's death.

Within hours of Gerry's cold, lifeless body being discovered in his empty apartment, RTE's heavyweights were rolled out on stage to pay Gerry a tribute fit for a king.

Ryan Tubridy, Pat Kenny, Joe Duffy, Dave Fanning and Brenda Donohue gave their time. Voices cracking, they spoke with emotion and passion about their colleague of 20 years.

Tubridy began by saying he hoped Gerry would "rest in peace".

But rather than the stony silence that followed this same request last week after cocaine was found to have caused his friend's death, what ensued on that night was 40 minutes of awe and reverence for the larger-than-life star.

Which is all well and good. But the recently unmasked cocaine addiction deserves the same attention.

On that night, Tubridy asked the panel about their favourite "knockout" Gerry moments.

Duffy looked towards the heavens as he wistfully remembered "yet another of Gerry's great achievements"; while Kenny even compared the shock-jock to one part of "The Holy Trinity" alongside Gay Byrne and Terry Wogan.

The eruption of sickly- sweet niceties was only tempered by a rational Brenda Donohue and an uncomfortable-looking Dave Fanning, who kept it genuine by interrupting his colleague's recollections with some much-needed reality checks.

Looking back, now that we know Gerry had a massive cocaine habit, their musings seem all the more pertinent.

On the same night, Duffy also described how "Gerry epitomised the self-confidence we had in the Celtic Tiger, the swagger, the fun, and the enjoyment".

While even Tubridy enthusiastically noted how a lunch with the 2fm star "was like somebody pulling the pin on a grenade".

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But perhaps the most poignant comment unwittingly came from Gay Byrne. He seemed utterly shocked and baffled at the star's premature death. "It's bizarre for me to be talking about him here tonight. He was 53," he said.

"He was over 20 years younger than I am. And that's what makes it unbefitting and peculiar and strange."

Fast forward six months and we, along with everyone on that panel, have discovered that Gerry died of massive and long-term cocaine use.

His heart was scarred from the constant abuse, his life cut short and his young family left without a father.

And suddenly it doesn't seem so peculiar and strange. Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle all fit so terribly into place. So where is the voice of the nation to comment on Gerry's criminal habits? To seize the golden moment and make some good emerge from a dumb habit and a senseless death?

After the inquest, Tubridy copped out of discussing the issue on his show by telling us to simply let his friend "rest in peace".

Duffy, a well-known anti-drugs campaigner who was one of the most vocal supporters of Ryan after his tragic passing, made no mention of his friend's cocaine use on Liveline in the week following the inquest.

Instead he discussed more pressing matters, such as stolen dogs and the relocation of a Dublin statue.

We, the taxpayers, paid Gerry to be a listening ear for the nation. To counsel parents of drug victims on the national airwaves, to listen to tales of how they had witnessed their young sons collapse from cocaine before their eyes, as Gerry delivered a sermon on how drug dealers deserved to be shot or put behind bars for life. All before he went out and gave them money from his own pocketand snorted cocaine like it was going out of fashion.

As O'Callaghan explains: "Many of his listeners are in shock. He was their confidante. And then they discover this?"

Only days after the inquest, Dublin's biggest cocaine supplier, Fat Freddie, who was said to have been the source of Gerry's drugs, was pictured splashing around in a water park in Spain with a smile spread across his face.

Whether his friends like to admit it or not -- Gerry helped put him there. Now is the time to talk about it, to make some good out of a senseless death. Otherwise, on top of all the anonymous drug users who pass away with no more than a few lines in a newspaper, who's next when death rears its ugly head once more at their door?

Katy French, Gerry Ryan... watch this space.

Sunday Independent

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