Friday 19 October 2018

A broadcasting legend who lived life to the full

THE son of a dentist, Gerry Ryan received an education from Trinity College, Dublin, that augured well for a successful career in law.

But shortly after his formal education had finished, he joined RTE in 1979 on a salary of just IR£78 a week.

That decision would be fully-vindicated. His most recent contract with the national broadcaster -- a five-year deal signed in 2007 -- was worth "in excess" of €550,000 per annum.

By that stage, his was the most-recognisable voice on Irish radio, and although his forays into television weren't as successful, he was considered for the position of 'Late Late Show' host last year. Both 'Operation Transformation' and 'Ryan Confidential' were also proven ratings winners on the small screen.

However, while Ryan's hugely successful professional life continued to justify his decision to abandon law, problems in his personal life came to the fore just over two years ago when, in a statement released through a solicitor, the end of the broadcaster's marriage was announced.

"It is with regret that Gerry and Morah Ryan announce their separation after 26 years of marriage," the statement read.

Prior to the surprise announcement, listeners to the morning radio show would get regular updates on "Mrs Ryan" and her views, and sometimes even her knickers, while Morah famously got her own back in 1997 when she called in pretending to be a woman called Norah complaining about her husband.

She told Ryan's listeners that her husband, among other things, dumped his underpants on the floor before hopping into bed every night and hadn't cleaned the dog's mess from the back yard for weeks before Ryan twigged.

But Gerry Ryan was no stranger to embarrassing situations.

While he joined 2FM at its launch in 1979, he did not become a household name until the mid-1980s when he claimed to have killed a lamb to eat while on a survival course for 'The Gay Byrne Show'.

Furore

The claim was subsequently withdrawn amid much furore, but afterwards he was shackled with the nickname 'Lambo'.

The launch of his morning show in 1988, however, revived the flagging fortunes of the radio station, and set Ryan on the road to stardom.

It was a strange career path for the young man from Clontarf, Dublin. He was educated at St Paul's in Raheny, and had ambitions from a young age to be a solicitor before securing a third-level place in Trinity. His father, Vinnie, was a dentist, but it was his mother, Maureen, who worked in theatre, who swayed her son towards the arts. During his college years, when he first met Morah, he was heavily involved in stage productions, and after a brief stint as a solicitor's apprentice, he started working in pirate radio, and then moved to RTE.

By the early 1990s, 'The Gerry Ryan Show' was gaining huge audiences for its three-hour morning slot.

"The whole machine shook... it was like the space shuttle engines starting up," he said of the time.

He was easily labelled a "motormouth", "shock jock" or "controversialist". But Ryan's background in law meant he was able to skillfully walk the line on oft-controversial subjects without getting the station into too much difficulty.

"He was tremendously arrogant in his views and opinions and he was very funny about it at the same time," Gay Byrne said yesterday.

"You couldn't possibly take offence."

Ryan's skills as an interviewer were never in question.

Among the early defining moments for the show was when Levinia Kerwick -- a woman whose rapist was convicted but given a suspended sentence -- phoned the show, and Ryan deftly handled a very difficult and emotional interview.

That empathy -- his ability to take on board peoples' problems whether large or small -- was arguably his greatest calling card. But some of Ryan's tastes were not to everyone's tastes. His show was the subject of a number of complaints upheld by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and his regular asides on sex and bodily functions made him a love/hate figure.

WITH audiences of more than 500,000 listeners in the mid- 1990s, it is unlikely he cared too much about those who didn't care for him.

He increasingly looked to television, but shows such as 'Secrets' and 'Ryantown' were not well-received by critics or audiences. He did, however, co-host the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, and would later write of his regret at passing up the opportunity to invest in the interval show, Riverdance.

A noted bon viveur, he would regale listeners about life on the burgeoning Celtic Tiger social scene with his glamorous wife, with dinner in Shanahan's on the Green a regular occurrence.

In their early married years, the Ryans lived in a small cottage in Dublin city. As their financial situation improved and the family expanded, they moved to Marino and eventually settled in a large house in Clontarf.

Close friends included Bono and Ali Hewson, Michael Flatley, Harry Crosbie and Gerald and Clodagh Kean, and the couple were regulars in celebrity haunts such as Lillie's Bordello.

They went on to have five children, before the surprise separation announcement.

It was the latest in a line of misfortunes in Ryan's private life. The presenter lost his father to prostate cancer in 2001. Then, in November 2006, the popular host was rushed by emergency services to hospital. At the time he said that his collapse was caused by "a viral infection combined with exhaustion".

In December of the same year he lost his mother who died at her home on Christmas Day.

He would later admit that his mother's passing had affected him deeply. "It has made me realise that you should really enjoy life because it's just a blip," he said. "You blink and the whole thing is gone.

"I'm 51 now and I've arrived at that milestone when both parents are gone and I'm there going -- what's next?" It was around the time of that interview that Ryan started a relationship with the former South African ambassador to Ireland, Melanie Verwoerd.

By this time, Ryan's listenership had fallen significantly, partly due to the huge amount of newly available choices on Irish radio. But his morning show was never in danger of losing its slot and it is understood Newstalk attempted to hire the host at one point.

He remained with the national broadcaster, and was the station's second-highest earner, according to the most-recently released figures.

He is survived by Morah Ryan, their five children, Charlotte (24), Rex (20), Bonnie (17), Elliot (14) and Babette (11), and by his two brothers, Mike and Vincent.

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