Dr James Wright was not just a popular and comforting figure who appeared on Australian TV screens and radio for decades – he was also the uncle through marriage of one of the nation’s most notorious gangsters – Mark ‘Chopper’ Read.
Dr Wright, whose real name is John Knight, died on Sunday at the age of 94, sparking an outpouring of grief and tributes across the country.
He was best known as the host of The Good Health show on 2UE and the ‘merry medic’ on The Mike Walsh Show, as well as The Midday Show from the 1970s into the 1990s.
He also wrote for the iconic Australian magazine Dolly under its infamous ‘Dolly Doctor’ section.
Read’s mother, Val Read, is the older sister of Dr Wright’s late wife, Noreen Knight, who died in 2012. Both women also have a younger sister, Audrey Harrington.
Dr Wright rarely talked about his connection with Read publicly but when he did he always spoke fondly of his convicted-criminal nephew who spent 23 years in prison.
Famous TV and radio doctor John ‘James Wright’ Knight (above) died at the age of 94 on Sunday
Dr Wright rarely talked about his connection with Mark Chopper Read (pictured) publicly but when he did he always spoke fondly of his convicted-criminal nephew who spent 23 years in prison
‘He was always lovely and polite to Noreen and me,’ he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph back in 2018.
‘A nice, gentle, ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’ sort of person.’
‘He treated his mum, Nor and me so delicately and kindly. You could not help but love the rogue.’
Dr Wright kept in frequent touch with the former gangster’s mother who ‘never saw the bad side’ in her son.
To Ms Read, her son ‘was always a loveable ‘kid’ that sort of grew up in the wrong direction’, according to Dr Wright.
At the time of the interview, Read’s life was to be featured in the latest season of Aussie true-crime drama series, Underbelly.
The hit 2000 film Chopper was also based on Read’s life, where Eric Bana played the infamous underworld figure, known around the world for sawing off his own ear in prison.
Read was a convicted criminal who spent 23 years in prison. In the latter years of his life, he wrote books, painted, performed in stage shows and made frequent media appearances
Dr Wright’s late wife Noreen was the sister to Read’s mother, Val. He rarely spoke about his nephew publicly but when he did he always spoke fondly of him (pictured, Dr Wright with former prime minister John Howard in 2004)
Dr Wright was just two weeks away from celebrating his 95th birthday when he passed on November 27.
During his storied career on radio and TV, ‘media consultants’ from the medical field were not permitted to use their real name on air – hence why he used the name James Wright instead of John Knight.
2GB radio host Ben Fordham paid tribute to the doctor on Tuesday and applauded the star’s charity work housing at-risk elders.
‘I used to love how he’d say to people when they’d call in on the program ‘what’s your problem?’, so no medical mumbo jumbo,’ Fordham said.
‘People would call in and tell him what was happening. They would often raise things with Dr James Wright that they were too shy to raise with their own doctor.
‘He would answer everyone’s questions. He was eccentric, he was intelligent, he was a joy to be around.’
Dr Wright was recognised for destigmatising major health issues, including the 1980s HIV-AIDS epidemic, and started a charity to house seniors in 1971.
Sydney radio host Ben Fordham (above) paid tribute to Dr Wright on Tuesday and applauded the star’s charity work housing at-risk elders
Dr Wright (above) was best known as the host of The Good Health show on 2UE and the ‘merry medic’ on The Mike Walsh Show and The Midday Show from the 1970s into the 1990s
Fordham said he was ‘lucky enough’ to work with Dr Wright during his time at 2UE and applauded his philanthropic work.
‘Away from the microphone and TV studio he did incredible things to help people,’ he said.
‘He set up a foundation which owned hundreds of units in high-rise buildings in Surfers Paradise and he would rent those apartments to struggling aged pensioners for one third of their income.
‘If people didn’t have money he would still offer them a place.
‘He did incredible things and we will pay tribute.’
Dr Wright was acknowledged for his charity work in 2017 when he was nominated for NSW’s Senior Australian of the Year.
WHO WAS DR JAMES WRIGHT?
John Knight graduated from medical studies from the University of Sydney in 1953 and moved to the rural NSW town of Tottenham where he worked at the local GP.
He kicked off his celebrity career by writing health columns for Australian women in Women’s Weekly, Dolly, Cleo and Women’s Day as well as major city newspapers including The Sunday Telegraph and The Melbourne Herald Sun.
John Knight adopted the name Dr James Wright to appear on The Mike Walsh Show in 1972 and became a TV regular through The Midday Show.
He became famous for simplifying medicine for everyday Australians – even bringing cameras into hospital operating theatres and intensive care units.
In the 1980s, Dr Wright took on the job of destigmatising HIV-AIDS.
At the height of Australia’s epidemic, he would teach everyday Aussies about the realities of the disease and work to reduce hysteria.
In 1971 he and his wife, Noreen, established the Medi-Aid Foundation which provided affordable housing for financially-insecure elders.
He was awarded an Order of Australian in 1998 and was nominated for NSW’s Senior Australian of the Year in 2017.
Source: TV Tonight