Family opens up about its wild child
FILMMAKER Larry Meltzer had one significant advantage for his documentary Johnny O’Keefe: The Wild One— the cooperation of the O’Keefe family.
The Hon Barry O’Keefe, Johnny’s brother and father of Deal Or No Deal’s Andrew O’Keefe, appears alongside Johnny’s children Vicky and John Jr. It is the first time they have spoken about the pioneering pop star (pictured) and it was quite a coup for Meltzer, who has produced respected music series Long Way To The Top and Great Australian Albums.
It adds a new dimension to the O’Keefe story, one that deepens our appreciation of how much he achieved in his 43 years.
‘‘The O’Keefe family are very private and it’s the first time the family have spoken openly about his (Johnny’s) life. They gave us the family archives. There were six large books with every single thing he’d done over his career,’’ Meltzer says.
‘‘He was the golden boy. He was the one the family worshipped. The mother’s devotion was remarkable. His mother Thelma curated these books. I’d never seen such care from anyone. They were very conservative, churchgoing people— his father Ray was a mayor— but they believed in him. To think that he had parents who thought he could make a living out of rock ’n’ roll in the ’50s is amazing.’’
Meltzer’s documentary shows that there was much more to O’Keefe than the well-known tale of the rise to stardom, ill-fated US trip, car accident, nervous breakdown and slow decline.
Industry figures including Col Joye, John Laws and Olivia NewtonJohn highlight how much of a music pioneer O’Keefe was— the Australian rock ’n’ roll singer, the first singer to have an Australian hit, the first to have a television series, the first one to record in the US.
But it is the family’s contribution that deepens the portrait of O’Keefe.
When Barry reminisces about growing up with Johnny (‘‘We had a great childhood. On Sunday we’d stand around the piano and either mum or dad or both would play and we’d sing.’’) the pain of his brother’s death is palpable.
‘‘I think that Barry really opened up for the first time,’’ Meltzer says.
‘‘We had a screening in Canberra and all the family came along. I was a bit nervous because we went to places that no other Johnny O’Keefe program had gone.
‘‘Afterwards, Barry came up to me and gave me a big bear hug, he was so excited about the project.’’ Johnny O’Keefe: The Wild One, PG ABC1, Thursday, 9.30pm Rock ’n’ roll doco Duration: 1 hour