Family and friends have arrived at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne to celebrate the life of entertainment legend Bert Newton.
The 83-year-old affectionately known as “Moonface” died on November 30 at a private Melbourne clinic after his leg was amputated in May due to a life-threatening infection.
Friday’s state funeral is being held at the cathedral from 10am, for just 500 guests because of COVID restrictions.
On Friday morning, Newton’s beloved wife Patti arrived and blew kisses to the media and other mourners.
Soon after, media personality Eddie McGuire, who will be delivering a eulogy during the service, also arrived.
He told 7NEWS Bert was a “wonderful person, a superstar and first class”.
Music legend Molly Meldrum, AFL great Sam Newman, entertainer Rhonda Burchmore, former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, TV personality Daryl Somers and comedian Andy Lee were also seen making their way into the cathedral ahead of the funeral.
Just before 10am, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews arrived and spoke to the media about Bert’s life.
“Bert was not only a great entertainer, but he was a person who made us laugh and a person who made us think and contemplate,” Andrews said.
“He was generous but never needed to be acknowledged, which I think is the mark of someone very special.”
Andrews said everyone could be certain the entertainer’s credits would “roll on and on and on”.
Entertainment reporter Peter Ford said he had spoken to Patti Newton on Thursday night.
“Bert would love it. I wish I could ring and tell him!” she said.
Newton’s son Matthew is in the US and could not attend. But in a letter, read out at the service, he noted that while his dad was well known as a great entertainer, he “wouldn’t just be around for the laughs”.
“Those close to him experienced how he’d show up in the tough times too. No one more than me,” he said.
Daughter Lauren said in her letter that saying goodbye was heartbreaking, especially for her mother Patti.
“They loved one another so much, and I know how he waited until she left the room to take his last breath because while she was with him, he couldn’t have gone,” she said.
She said her father had loved watching his six grandchildren perform concerts, introducing each one as though he was at the Logies.
Silvie Paladino sang the national anthem and Anthony Callea sang The Prayer.
Eddie McGuire gave the eulogy, describing the entertainer’s upbringing in a rough part of Melbourne in the 1950s, having lost his father at 11.
“Seventy years ago, could that young boy have dreamt of what was in front of him?” he said.
Bert’s incredible life
Melbourne-born Newton started in the radio business aged 12 and scaled the heights of Australian entertainment on stage and screen.
Alongside Graham Kennedy and Don Lane, he was part of a trio known as the kings of Australian television.
A stalwart of Australian theatre, Newton performed in Beauty and the Beast, The Sound of Music, Annie, The Rocky Horror Show, Grease and Wicked.
Several Melbourne theatres dimmed their lights for one minute at 7.30pm on Thursday to honour Newton’s contribution to the industry.
“Bert was a great professional and an esteemed colleague and friend,” Her Majesty’s Theatre owner Mike Walsh said.
Theatre producer John Frost said he was a “wonderful mentor to young performers”.
“Thank you Bert for all the laughs over the years; our industry is a lonelier place without you,” he said.
The four-time Logie winner mentored comedians Adam Hills and Rove McManus, who each remembered him in tributes on social media.
“Bert Newton was the ultimate entertainer. Australian TV wouldn’t be what it is without Bert. It’s up to us all to take what he taught us, and keep his spirit alive,” Hills said on Twitter.
McManus said he had lost a “mentor and friend” and Australia had “lost an icon”.
“But most importantly a family has lost their hero and soul mate. Sending love to all the Newtons, especially Patti. My heart is broken. Rest In Power, Albert Watson Newton,” he said on Twitter.
Newton is survived by Patti, his wife of more than 46 years, children Lauren and Matthew, and grandchildren.
Bert’s Gold Logie gift
After Bert’s passing, entertainment reporter and friend Peter Ford revealed a touching story he had waited three decades to tell.
Ford said in 1990 he had a friend who had AIDS and was dying in the Fairfield Infectious Disease hospital, with just weeks to live.
As his friend was a fan of showbusiness, Ford sent off cards to various celebrities asking if they would sign them and post them back. All of the celebrities did so, except Newton.
“Then five or six days later, I went to the hospital and there was a different buzz in the air.
“I asked what was going on and he said: ‘You won’t believe it, but Bert Newton has just left and has been here for hours’.”
Newton visited every single patient in the ward and sat with them to tell stories and make them laugh.
“I went into my friend who was suddenly energised and I looked across at the bedside table and, Bert had actually left one of his Gold Logies,” Ford said.
“I rang Bert and said: ‘I can’t believe you did that.’
“He said it’s OK, but he thinks he has broken some kind of Logie law by doing it, so you can never report it until the day I have gone.”
– With AAP