Melanie Verwoerd, girlfriend of Irish radio star Gerry Ryan, who died of a sudden heart attack setting off a prolonged national mourning, has described for the first time what the last hours in his life were like.
She said she realized something was badly wrong when he did not return her calls on the day he died. The couple did not live together. Both had broken up with their long-term spouses and were contemplating moving in.
She was speaking on the Marion Finucane show on Irish radio.
"It started the previous evening. Gerry hadn't been well for about two weeks. He wasn't feeling very well, he was very stressed. He didn't sleep well, he hadn't slept properly for a few nights. He kept waking up, but wouldn't go to the doctor. The night before, he was out with a few friends. I didn't go because I was feeling tired. He phoned me just before 12 (midnight) and we had a lovely conversation. He said he was tired and sounded very stressed, and I asked could I come over because I had moved very close to Gerry just three weeks before. He said no, he was already in bed and wanted both of us to get a good night -- especially me, because I was very tired.
"The next morning I didn't get my usual call from him. He would always call me just after seven when he woke, if we weren't together, and usually later when he was in the car (going to RTE). I didn't get either of those calls.
"I was a bit worried, I thought he had overslept because he was so tired the previous night. So I eventually went down to his house and saw the car, so I realised he wasn't up. So I was getting concerned, and I couldn't get into the house
"At that stage, it was before the programme. I couldn't get into the house, but not because I didn't have a key. I know a big fuss is being made about that, but of course I had a key. We lived between houses, my house as much as his house. But Gerry was very security conscious and people knew where he lived. So he always bolted the door from inside at night and put security chains on. So I couldn't get in. I tried to call him from outside and eventually I called the programme, Alice, his producer, and (asked her) was Gerry there, did he take a cab or something?
"She said he called in the previous night, he was very tired and just wanted to sleep in, and I was relieved that he was sleeping in because he was so tired and that he might just have put his phone on silent or left it downstairs
"So I went off to work. I was supposed to go to Athlone with him for some work he had to do for RTE. So I went to work and kept texting and phoning him, increasingly frenetically when it go to 11am/11.30 am.
"I got very anxious, and I suddenly had a bad feeling about everything. Even if he slept in, he would have woken up and some point and phoned me.
"I grabbed a cab and went back to his house and asked my son to come down with a hammer or screwdriver or something. He came down and tried to get the security chain off and open the door, but we couldn't get it off. So then I went down to one of the builders on a site nearby and asked one of them if they could help me.
"I said I've locked myself out, you see I have a key. I subsequently found out he knew it was Gerry's house. He came, he cut through the chain. I said thank you very much and he left. I didn't let him into the house. Then I went inside and ran upstairs and found Gerry.
"My son was waiting downstairs, but I called for him then. He came up and tried to help me to revive Gerry. It was very obvious at this stage that very little could be done.
"I don't think words can ever describe it, the sense of shock and the sense of helplessness. I was standing outside the door while my son was getting someone to cut the chain. I was calling in to Gerry, he should have been hearing me. At that point I knew something was wrong.
"I was getting very anxious, hoping he was sick or feverish. When I went upstairs he wasn't there on the bed and then in that split second I thought maybe he went out. Then I saw his feet around the corner of the bed. Then there is that sickening moment when I just knew and when I touched him and saw him I just knew he was dead. We called an ambulance -- I was still trying to do something. I called 999 and they told me to keep trying, a very nice guy, actually. I explained that he had to be quick. He kept telling me to keeping trying (to revive him). My son took the phone and told them there's nothing to do, 'stop saying that to my mother you are just upsetting her and putting her under pressure'.
"The police and ambulance all came very very quickly It is a very strange thing to go through -- you are slightly relieved that they are there but then they say 'sorry for your loss'. It was very strange. In a way Gerry guided me. I suddenly realised as shocked as I was that I needed to get to his children and Morah. I knew I would have a short time before the media got there, and in my own mind I was almost obsessed.
"I needed to get to them to tell them, or get somebody to tell them before they heard it from the public.
"I called their GP in Clontarf and asked him to go to the house because I didn't think it would be good for me to tell them over the phone and he went down. Unfortunately Morah wasn't there but the two elder children were and he got them to call me. So I spoke to them over the phone and the process went from there.
"Harry Crosbie phoned Gerry on his phone while all this was happening. I saw the call coming in so picked him up, that was actually after I called the ambulance but before they were there. I asked him if he would come over because I told him something horrible has happened to Gerry. So Harry (and his wife Rita) were there very quickly ... so that was great support even though they were so shocked themselves.
"My first priority was to get to the children and Morah and then I contacted, I can't remember in which order, the brothers -- and they came over, Mano and Mick. It was difficult because the children were spread across town and by that stage, less than half an hour later, the photographers were outside."
(Melanie then left the house and was in the car with showbusiness agent Noel Kelly when they heard a report of Gerry Ryan's death on Newstalk.)
"It was on the radio, it was unconfirmed reports, which I still find so problematic. It is so hard to understand how a radio station can put out unconfirmed reports about somebody's death. Surely you confirm it before you say it."
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