For the past decade, Bert endured a series of health battles, including a bout of pneumonia and a long recovery following a quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2012. Then, after an infection in his toe became life-threatening in May, a complication of his diabetes diagnosis, he underwent surgery to amputate part of his leg.
“He had a choice, and his choice was to live,” Patti, 76, said at the time. “His words were: ‘Let’s do this with a positive attitude.’”
Bert’s upbeat outlook and “the show must go on” fortitude was just part of his enduring appeal.
“There was a familiarity that connected us to Bert, but it also connected us to each other. We could laugh together. That was his gift,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Bert could give and take a joke. He could laugh at himself, I’m sure that’s what made Australians warm to him as much as we did.”
From humble beginnings as the youngest of six children in the then-working-class suburb of North Fitzroy in 1938, Newton ditched his plans to become a tram driver or join the priesthood in 1952 after scoring a job hosting a Saturday morning radio show at age 15. He landed his first TV role with Channel Seven as host of The Late Show in 1957.
In 1959, Bert was developing a morning show for Nine when he was called in to present a live commercial on In Melbourne Tonight with his pal, the late Graham Kennedy. The 30-second spot blew out to 18 minutes of ad-libbed wisecracks. Bert was hired as Kennedy’s straight man, and the pair would work together across various shows for 15 years.
After Kennedy departed from the network, Bert kept his role as a slick and subversive sidekick going on The Don Lane Show. The scene-stealer would go on to take centre stage in several variety shows over the years, including Good Morning Australia, New Faces, Bert’s Family Feud and 20 to 1.
During his decades-spanning career, the hardworking entertainer also put out records and starred in movies before more recently tackling the stage, with roles in major musicals including The Rocky Horror Show, The Wizard of Oz and Wicked. He hosted the Logies a record breaking 20 times – scoring four Gold Logies of his own.
During his first hosting gig in 1967, Newton presented one of the awards – Most Popular Female in Victoria – to entertainer Patti McGrath. The romantic detail is just one of many sweet footnotes in the couple’s epic love story.
Bert first met the then-Patti McGrath when the two of them were radio child stars. They crossed paths again when both working at Channel Seven and began working together at Nine Network, including on In Melbourne Tonight. They began courting in 1968 before Patti took off overseas for three years to further her career.
“I thought, ‘Oh that’s it, he’ll never get in touch again,” Patti has said. She was working as a performer on the QE2 cruise ship when Bert flew out to propose in Martinique on Australia Day, 1974.
Bert bought a diamond engagement ring at Tiffany’s and 10 months later, they wed in a church ceremony (with Graham Kennedy as best man) mobbed by thousands of fans craning for a glimpse of Australia’s golden couple. They welcomed son Matthew on January 22, 1977, and daughter Lauren on March 25, 1979.
WATCH BELOW: Bert and Patti Newton's incredible love story. Story continues after video.
Together they endured the ups and downs of showbusiness and family life, including Bert’s battle with a gambling addiction, and son Matthew’s struggles with his mental health, including assault allegations made against him by exes Brooke Satchwell and Rachael Taylor.
In 2016, Bert told the Herald Sun that Matthew was living and working as a writer and director in New York and had turned his life around. “I have always prayed for a happy ending,” he said. “And I think it has arrived.”
Despite that though, Patti admitted at the time WHO went to press that Matthew would be unlikely to attend Bert’s funeral and denied rumours of any family rift. “It’s just the logistics of it all, and with COVID and everything else,” she said to press outside her home “There was no rift.”
Closer to home, Bert found joy in being a grandfather to daughter Lauren’s six kids – Sam, Eva, Lola, Monty, Perla and Alby – with her former Olympic swimmer husband Matt Welsh, saying, “They have made this one of the happiest times of my life.”
Still reeling from her husband’s passing, Patti, who has accepted Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ offer of a state funeral for her husband, told reporters that Newton’s love for his family is what kept him fighting right until his final breath.
“He was never going to give up, and that’s what we have to take with us,” the mum-of-two said. “We have to just make sure that the love he gave us stays with us forever."