Fam­ily opens up about its wild child

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - COLIN VICK­ERY

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

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