Entertainment Books

Wednesday 14 November 2018

The final sad days of Ireland's great showband crooner

The full story of Joe Dolan's mystery illness and death is told in his official biography. Books Editor John Spain reports

Joe Dolan
Joe Dolan

The outpouring of grief that followed the death of Joe Dolan on St Stephen's Day last year was extraordinary. Huge crowds from all over Ireland and abroad attended his funeral, confirming his place as the most popular singer in the country.

The fans were devastated. It had been known that he was ill, but no one had thought his condition was that serious. After his death, speculation grew about the mystery illness that had killed him.

Now, for the first time, the details of his illness and of the last few months of his life have been told in his official biography. Written by journalist Ronan Casey, whose father Seamus was Joe Dolan's manager, the book explains how Joe wept when he had to leave the stage during his final concert and how he kept smiling as he struggled with his debilitating illness over the last few weeks of his life.

The first sign that something was wrong had started some years earlier when Joe frequently began to feel exhausted, a real problem because he needed a high energy level for his shows.

He had another problem as well. As the book says, he was then 40 years in the business and all those years of hip shaking had caught up with him. His stage routine had become painful and a hip problem was diagnosed.

He had a hip replacement in 2004 and while he was in hospital it was discovered that he had diabetes, which seemed to explain the fatigue he had been suffering from. He was out of action for almost a year.

However, with medication prescribed for the diabetes and his new hip healed, he was then back playing golf, recording, touring and doing big stage shows again.

But a year later, problems emerged again. He was on holiday with friends in Spain in September 2005 when he collapsed in the hotel foyer after saying he felt weak. His friends thought it might have been caused by not taking his diabetes seriously enough.

In 2006 and early last year he was involved in a number of projects -- including the Meteor TV ad featuring him in the bath -- and was extremely busy.

Sessions for a new album were postponed when again he started feeling drained. Again the diabetes was blamed but, according to the book, Joe himself was not convinced. In spite of this, he kept up a busy schedule with appearances in Britain and Ireland.

It was around this time that "those close to him noticed that he was having recurring nosebleeds, which were leaving him quite pale." He had been having the nosebleeds for some time and was also losing weight. His doctors first thought that it was a pancreatic problem related to his diabetes, but then "it was discovered that he had a low blood platelet count".

Joe was given a blood transfusion which boosted him and from then on he was getting regular transfusions whenever his energy level was down.

He started to record a new album in summer last year and began a big Irish tour. But he was frequently "too tired" to meet fans after the shows and on one night in Ballinasloe he "could barely walk coming off the stage".

His platelet count was low again, he had pleurisy and he had lost a lot of weight. He did 13 shows that month (August last year) and, after seeing his doctor, it was decided to move the rest of the shows to the second leg of the tour, starting in Abbeyleix on September 27.

In the weeks he had off, he finished recording the album and seemed in good form. But his health and energy levels were up and down. In spite of this, he went ahead with the second leg of the tour.

During the rehearsal for the first show in Abbeyleix, he was "pale and withdrawn". He seemed unsteady on his feet as he walked on stage that night.

He was only a few songs into the show when he began to struggle. The band filled in for him and he tried to carry on ... but then he turned to one of the band and said "I can't go on ..."

He was, according to the book, the same colour as his white suit.

After apologising to the audience, he came off the stage in tears and he was in and out of hospital over the next few weeks. After each blood transfusion he would feel much better and even managed a game of golf in November. But over the next few weeks he was in and out of hospital again. His platelets were wearing down quicker than before, and he was getting noticeably weaker.

When Fr Brian D'Arcy made a second visit to him in hospital in December, he was worried. In the book, he says: "I was very fearful that it might not work out for him. He wasn't getting any better."

In spite of this, Joe got back to his home in Foxrock again but the prognosis was not good: "Although he had no terminal illness, he was not showing any significant signs of improvement. He returned to hospital the week before Christmas unable to walk."

He did make it home for Christmas, however; he left the Mater in a wheelchair the day before Christmas Eve.

He spent Christmas Day at home with friends but told them he would be going to bed early because "he wasn't feeling too well". A few hours later he felt worse and was taken back to the Mater by ambulance. The book describes how, probably as the ambulance raced through Dublin city centre, Joe had a brain haemorrhage.

At the Mater he was put on a life support machine. And the next day, St Stephen's Day, surrounded by family and friends, the machine was turned off and Joe passed away peacefully.

Joe Dolan -- The Official Biography is published by Penguin Ireland at €24.99

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