High-profile Australians who died in 2016

By Sarah McPhee
(Australian Associated Press)


ROBERT STIGWOOD (April 16, 1934 – January 4, 2016)

Robert Stigwood was a showman who managed some of the most famous showmen in the creative arts. He moved from South Australia to London in 1955 to establish a theatrical agency before becoming one of Britain’s first independent music producers, with clients Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees. Stigwood produced the West End musicals Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar before taking the reigns on the movies Saturday Night Fever and Grease. ‘Stiggy’ never married. His godson, Robin Gibb’s son Spencer, announced the “creative genius with a very quick and dry wit” died, aged 81.

SARAH TAIT (January 23, 1983 – March 3, 2016)

Sarah Tait was a champion rower and mother who pioneered change for women in elite sport with children. Tait had her daughter, Leila, in 2009 before winning silver with Kate Hornsey in the Women’s Pair at her third Olympic Games in 2012. She retired from the sport when she was diagnosed with cancer after the birth of her second child, Luca, in March 2013. Tait died after a three-year cancer battle, aged 33. She is remembered by the Australian Olympic Committee and Rowing Australia for introducing the Family Friendly Policy, allowing children of athletes to be reunited with their mums while they’re away for extended periods of training and competition.

PAUL COUCH (July 19, 1964 – March 5, 2016)

Geelong 1989 Brownlow medallist Paul ‘Couchy’ Couch had a “beautiful left boot” and 203 goals to his name. The loving husband and father-of-four played 259 AFL games for the Cats and was named in the club’s team of the century, while also representing Victoria on five occasions. Couch died from a heart attack, aged 51, while cycling with friends on the Great Ocean Road near Apollo Bay. He was adored by fans and teammates for his infectious smile and down to earth temperament.

JON ENGLISH (March 26, 1949 – March 9, 2016)

Jon English may have been English-born but he was a much-loved figure of the Australian stage. The larger than life rocker – nicknamed “Ol’ Black Eyes” with his wild mane of hair and dimples – recorded 10 solo albums across the 1970s and 80s and won a Logie for his role in the historical TV drama Against the Wind. He reached the height of his fame in 1972 as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, alongside Marcia Hines and John Paul Young. English died after suffering an aortic aneurysm during surgery, aged 66.

BOB ELLIS (May 10, 1942 – April 3, 2016)

Bob Ellis’ love for Labor became his labour of love. He was unashamedly left-wing, writing about politicians and writing speeches for them including Kim Beazley, Bob Carr, Bob Brown and former South Australian premier Mike Rann. Ellis considered his book, Goodbye Jerusalem – pulped after successful defamation action from Tony Abbott, Peter Costello and their wives – to be the most stupid thing he had ever written. The veteran author, journalist and playwright died after a battle with liver cancer, aged 73.

REG GRUNDY (August 4, 1923 – May 6, 2016)

Reg Grundy produced some of the country’s most addictive television, tailoring overseas game shows such as Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune and The Price Is Right to the Australian market. Grundy’s shows made household names of hosts Bert Newton, Tony Barber, Glenn Ridge and Baby John Burgess. The TV mogul and passionate wildlife photographer provided the launching pad for countless screen stars when he founded the Reg Grundy Organisation in 1959, with Neighbours the jewel in the company’s crown. Grundy died aged 92 in the arms of his wife, actress and author Joy Chambers.

LADY SUSAN RENOUF (July 15, 1942 – July 15, 2016)

Lady Susan Renouf had three daughters, three marriages and adored the first Tuesday in November. The loyal Melburnite was a regular in the social pages since the 1960s, and became one of Australia’s best-known political wives from her marriage to prominent Liberal politician Andrew Peacock. She was handed the Melbourne Cup in 1980 as the wife of British racing identity Robert Sangster, and acquired the title of Lady from her third husband, New Zealand businessman Sir Frank Renouf. The spirited socialite died on her 74th birthday after having battled terminal ovarian cancer since 2013.

FORBES CARLILE (June 3, 1921 – August 2, 2016)

Forbes Carlile coached 52 members of the Australian Olympic, World Championship and Commonwealth Games teams, bringing home 12 Olympic medals including five individual gold and 31 world records. He was Australia’s youngest Olympic coach, first modern pentathlete and oldest Olympian. Carlile established the country’s first swimming pool and first study of the development of the freestyle stroke. In 1977, he was made a Member of the British Empire for his services to swimming. He died, aged 95, after seven decades as a stalwart supporter of the sport.

RICHARD NEVILLE (December 15, 1941 – September 4, 2016)

Richard Neville launched his controversial satirical magazine Oz in Australia on April Fool’s Day, 1963. He spent the next five decades of his life defending the publication – complete with risque articles about back-street abortions and chastity belts – in Australian and British courts. The counterculture writer worked as a broadcaster for the ABC and co-authored a biographical best-seller about serial killer Charles Sobhraj with his journalist wife, Julie Clarke. The pair settled in a house they called Happy Daze in the Blue Mountains and had two daughters. Neville was diagnosed with dementia in his 60s and died, aged 74, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

NORMAN MAY (February 14, 1928 – September 11, 2016)

The legendary broadcaster had a distinct voice and an encyclopedic mind. He was recruited by the ABC in 1958 and provided commentary for 22 Olympics and Commonwealth Games. May’s most famous call during the men’s 4x100m medley relay at Moscow in 1980: “The crowd’s going mad, Australia in front, it’s Brooks and Koplyakov, forget the rest … Gold! Gold for Australia! Gold!”. May, nicknamed Nugget for his stout body type when he was young, was awarded an Order of Australia in 2009 for his service to the media and tireless efforts raising money for athletes.

MAX “TANGLES” WALKER (September 12, 1948 – September 28, 2016)

Max Walker was a fan favourite cricketer, commentator and authored 14 books, nicknamed Tangles for his unique bowling action. The ever-smiling athlete from Tasmania reached the elite level of Australian Rules football as a defender with the Melbourne Demons before playing 34 Tests and 17 one-day internationals. He was one of only four men to have played VFL footy and Test cricket in the same year. Walker died, aged 68, after a two-year fight against myeloma, a type of blood cancer.

REBECCA WILSON (December 22, 1961 – October 7, 2016)

Sports journalist, columnist and broadcaster Rebecca Wilson was fearless and frank. She fought a long and private battle with breast cancer until her death at the age of 54. Wilson’s career in the newspaper and television industry spanned more than 20 years including stints with The Daily Telegraph, the ABC, Sky News, Channel Nine’s The Footy Show and Channel Seven’s Sunrise.


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