Patti Newton spent most of her Saturday with her husband at his hospital bedside before leaving shortly after noon.
As she pulled into her driveway, she received a phone call telling her that her husband of 46 years had taken her last breath just 10 minutes after her departure.
“I just missed him. But maybe he did not want me to be there for his last breath, so he probably left without me there. Which is probably a good thing,” she said.
For a man who spent so much of his life in full public, his last moments were spent in the seclusion of palliative care.
But when the Newton family woke up this morning, they were flooded with messages of love for the late Bert Newton.
“All our hearts are broken, but the outpouring of love has been fabulous,” she said.
“I think if he looks down on us today, he would just be so excited to hear the Prime Minister and all the people he admired so much come up with these lovely statements.”
And while tributes are pouring in for one of Australia’s biggest entertainers, one word has been repeated about the man who graced TV screens in homes across the country for more than six decades: irreplaceable.
Bert Newton’s death at the age of 83 leaves a void in the Australian entertainment landscape, where those who knew him best reflect on the laughs, memories and lovable performer known as Moonface.
For his peers and colleagues, Newton was destined to be a TV star from the moment he stepped in front of a camera.
Longtime friend and colleague Pete Smith said Newton’s talent was evident from the beginning.
“In the early days of television, those lucky enough to get a performance learned on camera,” he said.
“There was a person who did not learn. He already had the wonderful talent and his name was Bert Newton.”
But for someone with so much charisma on screen, it was his rare gift to be able to share the spotlight that made him really special.
“If you appeared on TV, even just made a simple commercial, Bert made you feel like you were the only person counting. He did it with everyone, from Graham Kennedy and Don Lane and down,” Smith said.
“He was very generous. If he knew you were going, that you were funny, he would just let you go,” said John-Michael Howson, who worked with Newton as a reporter for Good Morning Australia.
Wherever Newton went, the spotlight followed.
His move to Network 10 in 1992 to host Good Morning Australia attracted fanfare and attention that his new colleagues were not used to.
Newton made it cool to watch morning shows.
“Before that time it was a bit of a cemetery. He had been on Channel 9, he had been on Channel 7. He had been primetime, and suddenly everyone was watching us,” said Laura Mercer, who worked as a producer with Newton on Good Morning Australia.
“It gave the rest of us a career.”
The show’s musical director, John Foreman, said the 12 years he spent working with Newton were a highlight of his career.
“I loved working with Bert so much. It was a great time in my life and a great time for everyone [who] worked on that show, “he said.
“He knew every detail of how television worked and we will never see his stomach again.”
Newton brought his workhorse attitude to the show and instilled the same work ethic in his team.
Together, they filmed more than 3,000 episodes of Good Morning Australia and produced 12 and a half hours of television each week, with Bert’s charm and a comforting promise to see us all tomorrow.
As the cameras stopped rolling, another side of Bert could be seen.
“I think sometimes he would be a little quieter behind the scenes in the locker room because he probably needed a break from talking to so many people,” Mrs Mercer said.
Colleagues would see his gentle and generous nature come to the fore, from small encouraging notes or kind gifts and words to those in need.
For colleagues like Rhonda Burchmore, it was Newton’s loyalty as a friend that she would appreciate the most.
“One of my best memories was probably the lowest point in my career when I got all this incredible flag for opening Melbourne’s casino so many years ago,” Burchmore said.
“I almost wanted to give up the business, and it was actually Bert who pulled me out of that trench and said, ‘Come on, you do not want to let those people get the best out of you.’
It was a side of Newton that many who grew up seeing him might not have seen.
“He was not a sociable person,” Howson said.
“He was not one to be seen at big parties. The curtain would fall down and he and Patti would go.”
It was his family that was Newton’s true love, including grandchildren Lola and Eva, which Patti said was his pride and joy.
“Lola and Eva have been the love of his life. That was why he kept going, I think, but he realized he just couldn’t do it anymore,” Patti said.
And while the Australian public was in love with Newton’s relationship with Graham Kennedy and Don Lane, his biggest partnership was without a doubt with his wife, Patti.
“I have to think that he is at peace and that he is not in pain. Nothing else can hurt him,” she said.
“He was just the most wonderful man.”
Despite all the fame and recognition, Bert Newton remained a boy from Fitzroy, fiercely proud and loyal to his hometown.
“I used to say to him, ‘You could have done it in the States,’ but he would not go. Melbourne was his home. He did not even go to Sydney,” Howson said.
“The Melbourne audience loved him. He was one of our own. He was a bit like the Shrine of Remembrance. He was part of our country, part of our city.”
It is only fitting then that the boy from Fitzroy gets the full honor of a state funeral, a gesture that Patti said Bert would love.
While the curtain has gone down and the spotlight has dimmed, Newton gets the opportunity for one last extra in St Patrick’s Cathedral, where the public can say goodbye to a legend from the Australian entertainment industry.