Bert Newton, Gold Logie-winning entertainer and TV star, died at the age of 83

Bert Newton, the colorful cornerstone of Australian television that graced the country’s screens for more than 50 years, has died, aged 83.

Newton had roles on all four major networks, but was best known for his long-standing affiliation with Channel Nine and his partnership with entertainer Graham Kennedy.

After starting his media career as a teenage radio reporter in Melbourne in the 1950s, Newton’s life is unmatched.

Newton never officially retired and hosted the Logie Awards as late as 2018 despite suffering from a number of health issues over the past decade.

He had his leg amputated in May 2021 after suffering from complications from an infected toe.

Newton leaves behind his wife Patti and two children, Lauren and Matthew.

Australia ‘Mr Television’

Born on July 23, 1938 in the then working-class Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy North, a young Bert Newton aspired to become a tram driver.

His first memory was of a tram rattling past the family home in Holden Street, and as a child he often watched that car as it passed by.

But the boy, who wanted to announce the city stop, instead found his voice not heard on the tram speaker, but broadcast across the radio waves in Melbourne.

At the age of 15, Newton became Australia’s youngest professional television station and worked at station 3XY.

Graham Kennedy wears a dress and gestures to the audience with Bert Newton at a New Year's Eve show in 1959.
Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton at a New Year’s Eve show in 1959(Delivered: TV Times)

He landed his first TV job at Channel Seven as host of The Late Show in 1957, before becoming Graham Kennedy’s straight-man on Channel Nine’s In Melbourne Tonight.

The pair were undoubtedly groundbreaking for live sketch comedy in Australia and were some of the country’s biggest stars in the 60s.

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But it was their time together at the Graham Kennedy Show that cemented the couple’s legacy on television.

Kennedy was known as the ‘King’ of television, but he was expelled from his kingdom in 1975 for imitating a collar call that sounded like he was saying “f ***”.

The cancellation would cause both Kennedy and Newton to tread the water in a notoriously unforgivable industry.

For Newton, it was talk show host Don Lane who would throw him a lifeline after insisting on Channel Nine that he was the right man to host The Don Lane Show.

A black and white photo of Don Lane looking down at Bert Newton, who is driving a mini Ford car in a TV studio.
Newton said Don Lane revived his career.(Delivered to: Nine Network)

“Don was great to work with, he really revitalized my career,” Newton said.

“He stood up for me because a couple of the folks at Nine said, ‘He’s a pretty good guy, but he’s so identified with the Kennedy era, grab another one.’

“Don insisted it was me and it was a new partnership and it was a great era.”

It was Lane who anointed Newton with the title “Moonface” – a nickname he had also been called in school.

Newton’s popularity on the show grew rapidly as he cultivated the role of sidekick for show thieves.

He received four Gold Logies in the process – in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1984.

In a speech to ABC in 2003, Newton said he did not think there was that much pressure to be number two.

“He needs to know what to do, and he also needs to know what we might also need to look for and make sure they get out of order.”

Don Lane stands next to Bert Newton for a 1980s commercial.
Newton described Lane as his “TV best.”(Delivered)

The Don Lane Show ended in 1983, and while Lane’s career took him to the United States, Newton went on to become an Australian icon.

Don Lane died in 2009 at the age of 75 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

On the 10th anniversary of Lane’s death, Newton described him as his “TV best”

“I miss him terribly. When we look back on the fun we had, literally falling off sofas in tidal waves of laughter, mixing it up with showbiz greats like Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jnr and Debbie Reynolds … there will never be a Don Lane again, “Newton told Women’s Day in 2019.

Kennedy, whose television career continued to thrive after the cancellation of his show, died in 2013 at the age of 71 after a long illness.

Newton did not personally attend Kennedy’s funeral due to work commitments, but instead gave a video message.

Graham Kennedy (left) and Bert Newton
Newton played Graham Kennedy’s straight man at In Melbourne Tonight.(Kanal ni)

‘The love of my life’

As his star status on television increased, public interest in Newton’s love life increased.

Graeme Blundell, who wrote the unauthorized biography Bert: The Story of Australia’s Favorite TV Star from 2014, said the media in Melbourne were obsessed with the young, handsome bachelor.

Newton was briefly engaged to TV colleague Susan-Gaye Anderson in 1962 and had an on-and-off-again relationship with model Joy Fountain.

But it was singer-dancer Patti McGrath who wanted to steal his heart.

Newton realized that McGrath was “the one” while working abroad, so he flew to America and booked a ticket for the cruise ship she appeared on.

He proposed on Australia Day 1974.

“It was all very romantic as we ran towards each other. I kept saying, ‘I can not believe you’re really here,'” McGrath told The Australian Women’s Weekly after their engagement.

Patti McGrath and Bert Newton embrace for a photo on their wedding day.
Patti McGrath and Bert Newton on their 1974 wedding anniversary.(Delivered: TV Times)

The couple got married that November in Melbourne’s St Dominic’s Church.

Police had to clear a path to the bridal party as up to 10,000 fans crowded outside the chapel.

The couple had two children; Matthew, born in 1977, and Lauren, born in 1979.

Their marriage endured both Newton’s career in show business as well as his struggles with gambling addiction, which nearly bankrupted them in 1993.

They have also stood by Matthew during his own struggles with addiction as well as several accusations of assaulting former girlfriends Brooke Satchwell and Rachael Taylor.

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Patti’s Instagram feed is a stream of tribute to her children, grandchildren and her long-standing devotion to “the love of my life”, Bert.

She celebrated their wedding anniversary in 2019 and wrote: “It has been a wonderful life together, ups and downs and lots of laughter and happiness. Thank you for choosing me. Love you Mack.”

A lasting legacy on display

Newton’s ability to endure television for decades meant he always reached a new generation of audiences.

“He never stopped. Shows failed, sometimes there were disasters, but he just shrugged and kept going,” cinema Blundell told RN.

Newton briefly hosted his own show on ABC in the 1970s, but it was on Channel 10 that he would find his new home as host of Good Morning Australia.

For more than a decade, Newton graced the television screen in the daytime, until the program ended in 2005.

He hosted a number of other shows throughout the 90s and 2000s, including New Faces, Bert’s Family Feud and 20 to 1.

Newton also became synonymous with The Logie Awards, hosting it a total of 20 times and achieving 15 victories, including four Gold Logies.

Bert Newton is standing next to an old film camera with screens behind him.
Newton became known as a veteran of Australian television.(AAP: Joe Castro)

During Logies in 1979, Newton inadvertently used the racist word “I like the boy” while on stage with heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

His last Logies host concert in 2018 was also marred by controversy as he joked that Graham Kennedy and Don Lane “mentored” young talents in their locker rooms.

Off-screen, Newton found success in a number of musical productions, including The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, The Producers, Wicked, The Sound of Music and The Rocky Horror Show.

He was forced to withdraw from the Perth tour of Wicked in 2011 due to a severe pneumonia. He contracted the disease again in 2017.

Newton underwent a quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2012 and had his leg amputated in May 2021 in a “life or death” surgery following a toe infection.

Newton was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for service to the entertainment industry and was named Victorian of the Year in 2008.

Bert Newton at the Logie Awards 2018
Newton also had success on stage, appearing in plays and musicals.(AAP: Dan Peled)

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