Friday 23 February 2018

'I knew he had issues with coke 16 years ago'

This is the subject Gerry Ryan must have been afraid I'd bring up if I ever got his permission to interview him, believes a sorrowful Joe Jackson

Gerry Ryan once said to me "Jackson, you bollix, I'll never give you an interview because you know way too much about me." He was laughing at the time. This was despite the fact that he had previously told his radio listeners that I was probably "the best print interviewer in Ireland".

I replied to Gerry's reluctance to face me across the interview table in a similarly light-hearted vein: "That I do, Ryan, you bollix, and that's why I've never even tried to interview you, and I never f**king will."

So, what were we alluding to? At the time, I assumed Gerry was simply hinting at some bare-bone truths about his private life I'd learned from a woman I'd dated and who, at one point, had been close to him, or from a few pretty intense social conversations with his gorgeous, graceful wife Morah.

But now that his use of cocaine has become public knowledge, and, more devastatingly, is what seems to have led to his premature death, I think this is the subject he was afraid I might have raised in an interview.

Did I know that Gerry Ryan was yet one more of my media peers who secretly used coke? Yes, for at least the last 16 or so years. Indeed, the first time we talked, it was about cocaine.

We were both in a restaurant in Dublin, a popular hangout for many pop stars. It was only days after I'd had printed in an Irish magazine my interview with Mark Cagney in which he'd first gone public on his heavy cocaine habit -- and Gerry suddenly approached me, clearly more than a little wired and aggravated, but smiling.

"Joe, why did you have to go and let Mark Cagney say all that shit?"

"Hi, Gerry, nice to meet you! What shit?"

"Him saying that he wasn't the only big name in 2FM who used cocaine."

"You yourself are an interviewer Gerry, you know it's not up to me to stop people saying what they want to say, or feel they have to say.

"Yeah, but you made the decision to print it. You could have cut out all that stuff."

"And why would I want to?"

"Because you and Mark Cagney should know better. You both should know that by putting that in print you could get a lot of people in trouble."

"Like who, for example, Gerry?"

"F*** off, Jackson, you're not interviewing me now!" Ryan responded, laughing. "But you really should be more careful, Joe, that's all I'll say."

This, of course, doesn't prove that Gerry was one of the big names in 2FM who, apparently, had been using coke since, or at least during, the late Eighties, along with Cagney. But what happened next did, at least to me. At that very moment, the person Gerry was with -- who I won't identify -- walked over, was introduced to me, and told Ryan a certain guy wanted to see him, right away, "down in the loo".

I won't name that guy either, but those of us who worked in the music business during the Nineties knew he was the dealer who supplied many of Ireland's top rock stars with cocaine. And Gerry knew I knew, so at this point we both just burst out laughing as if sharing a private joke.

Then I said, "Go on Gerry, all the best parties seem to take place in loos these days!" He responded: "Don't they just!" then left.

Since then, maybe partly because I spent many years working for RTE Radio 1, I would frequently hear rumours about either Gerry's continued use of, or even problems with, cocaine. But I never raised the subject with him again. However, at a recent party, he had a glass of champagne in one hand, was sweating profusely (one of the signs of heavy cocaine use) and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time visiting the loo -- certainly, to my eyes, he seemed to be flying heaven- high on white powder.

How could I have known that night that this seemingly lethal mix of champagne and cocaine would later make him fall into his own kind of hell, however fleeting, or otherwise, and kill him at the age of only 53?

But here's what's weird...

Some time ago, while I was interviewing Johnny Logan for an Under the influence special on Radio 1, he told me that while Gerry was interviewing him for Ryan Confidential, "he was lashing into not only the wine on the table, but a bottle of Jack Daniels he had hidden on the floor".

Given that Logan is a reformed alcoholic, this made him concerned for Gerry. Me, too, partly because I don't want to see anyone fall and die as a result of alcohol and drugs, as my dad did.

Maybe that's why, just a few months before this fate did then tragically befall Gerry Ryan, I said to a friend, Beibhinn Byrne, while we were walking home from an opening night at the Abbey: "Have you heard anything about Gerry Ryan's health, or his drinking or drug use? I'd hate anything to happen to the guy."

Eerie, eh? Now, I wonder which one of my champagne- loving and cocaine-using media peers will go next. Won't we ever f***ing learn? Gerry. RIP.

Sunday Independent

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