Bert Newton’s troubled son Matthew has spoken about his estrangement from his father in a touching eulogy, which was read out at the TV icon’s state funeral in Melbourne on Friday.
In the eulogy, which was read aloud by Bert’s long-time friend, radio and television announcer Peter Smith, Matthew spoke about the pair ‘reconnecting’ over Zoom and FaceTime after he moved to New York several years ago.
Matthew said social media had helped him to ‘connect’ with his family.
Father and son: While he wasn’t present for his father’s funeral in Melbourne on Friday, Matthew Newton still wrote a touching eulogy for his beloved dad, Bert
‘Over the last 10 years, while I’ve lived abroad, Dad and I would play our conversational songs over Zoom and FaceTime – tools that allowed me to connect and in a way reconnect with my whole family, but especially with Dad,’ he said.
He added that his father was always there for him in the ‘tough times’, and said he had depth beyond his reputation as a larrikin.
‘Everyone knows he was a great entertainer, but what a lot of people don’t know about Dad is that he wouldn’t just be around for the laughs,’ Matthew continued in his eulogy.
Losing touch: The 44-year-old troubled actor hinted at a tumultuous relationship with his late father, as he spoke about them reconnecting. Pictured at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada in September 2017
‘Those close to him experienced how he’d show up in the tough times, too. No one more than me.’
He also spoke about their ‘final conversation’ a few days before Bert’s death, and admitted it ‘was different from the usual, and we both knew it’.
‘The change was never directly stated, but we eschewed the stories and the laughter, and just said how much we loved each other,’ he continued.
‘Over the last 10 years, while I’ve lived abroad, Dad and I would play our conversational songs over Zoom and FaceTime – tools that allowed me to connect and in a way reconnect with my whole family, but especially with Dad,’ Matthew said
‘During that wonderful chat, my mother was pottering around in the background, adding her two cents every now and again, and doing lovely things for Dad, as usual.
‘At one point, she took something into another room, and the second she left, dad leaned into the phone camera and whispered, “I think she’s poisoning my food, Matthew!”
‘Well, we both laughed and laughed until we cried. Although given why we’re here today, Mum, perhaps I should’ve taken him more seriously!’
‘Everyone knows he was a great entertainer, but what a lot of people don’t know about dad is that he wouldn’t just be around for the laughs,’ Matthew continued in his eulogy. Pictured during a TV appearance in New York City in February 2017
Jokes aside, Matthew described his mother as fiercely protective of his father, and added ‘there’s not a lioness in the world who loved, supported and cherished her lion as much as you did Dad’.
‘You two were a team, are a team, and even though your partner isn’t on stage anymore, the show goes on, and you’ll be OK, mainly because you’ll have Lauren’s 97 children to take care of you,’ he teased.
Earlier this month, Patti Newton confirmed her son would not return to Melbourne from his home in New York to attend the star’s funeral.
Explaining his absence, Matthew began his eulogy by apologising for not being there, saying the pandemic had meant he was unable to travel.
‘I’m very sorry that due to the pandemic I can’t be with you all there to celebrate Dad,’ he said.
Patti, 76, also slammed recent media reports that her TV legend husband was estranged from their son.
‘The press are just desperate to find a little glitch into [their relationship],’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘He won’t be coming. For no reason. I don’t know, I mean maybe he needs to put a statement out to stop everybody thinking that there’s a rift or something.’
Bert died aged 83 on October 30 after a well-publicised battle with illness over recent months.
He was hospitalised in March and underwent surgery on his leg in May. He needed surgery after his toe became infected before Christmas.
The infection was ‘linked to his diabetes’ and was threatening his life, with doctors telling him the surgery was a ‘life or death decision’.
Doctors told Bert that if he kept the leg then he would have just ‘months to live’ rather than years if he chose to amputate.
Patti lashed out at media reports that continue to suggest her son had been estranged from his father in the years before his death.
‘There was no rift. He’s had many long conversations with Bert in the hospital and that was all fine,’ she said.
The beloved singer, who is 76, said Matthew would be held-up by the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to cause havoc across the United States.
‘It’s just the logistics of it all, and with Covid, and with everything else,’ she said.
Patti revealed Matthew was able to see his father regularly while he was alive via video calls.
‘But he didn’t personally, so I would find that a bit sad if the time that he saw him was when he wasn’t really alive.’
Patti revealed Matthew had spoken to Bert in his final days via video conference where they would discuss his famous father’s relationships with some of Hollywood’s hottest stars of his era.
‘He had the best conversations. They’re both into movies and things, so they talked about old movies and I think the height of the conversation was about Glenn Ford because Bert was the only one that Glenn Ford would speak to and Matthew had heard the story and he wanted to hear it again,’ she said.
‘I’ve had so many conversations with him. We had a conversation last night and all the family were here. (The media) want to make it a rift, but there was no rift. There was never a rift with Bert,’ she added.
Matthew, who suffers from bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and has a history of addiction, has a notably tumultuous past.
This includes domestic violence allegations from two former girlfriends: Australian actresses Brooke Satchwell, 40, and Rachael Taylor, 37.
Matthew was also arrested twice in Miami, Florida, in 2012 – the first for trespassing and resisting officers, while a second incident saw him charged with battery and resisting arrest after he attacked a hotel receptionist.
Following the charges, Matthew checked into the Betty Ford Center in California for 90 days of alcohol and drug treatment.
Both matters were later dismissed under the conditions that Matthew completes community service and writes a letter of apology to the hotel clerk.
He was forced to withdraw as director of the Hollywood film Eve in October 2018 after a social media backlash over his alleged history of assault.
According to Woman’s Day magazine, Matthew has completely given up on his home country and is happy living with long-term partner Catherine Schneiderman in New York.
Matt and Catherine, who is the daughter of former New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman, have dated since 2012 and were reportedly married in 2017.
‘Because of his scandals over the years, he can’t face coming home to Australia,’ a source told the publication.
‘Matthew lives a private, almost reclusive, life with his partner Catherine in New York now, where he is rarely bothered. He has no desire to reawaken old demons by returning to Australia,’ the insider added.
More to come.
Matthew Newton’s eulogy in full
‘I’m very sorry that, due to the pandemic, I can’t be with you all there to celebrate dad.
Growing up, I never really watched Bambi or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or a lot of other kids’ movies you could name. I didn’t want to. What fascinated me were the movies that created that black and white glow radiating through the doorway of my dad’s home office. That’s where I wanted to be.
So, by the age of 10, my dad had introduced me to Humphrey Bogart, the Marx Brothers, Elijah Cook Jr, Abbott and Costello, Katharine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and on and on. They were our buddies and dad and I began a back and forth conversation about them that would continue without a break for the next 34 years. Swapping old showbiz stories and legends was how he and I, two Catholic Australian men of different generations, expressed our love and affection for one another, without having to actually say it all the time.
We’d exchange the same stories and bits, hundreds of them, over and over, not caring that we already knew them; just loving to hear them again and again. More importantly, hearing the other person tell them again. They were the conversational equivalent of playing our favourite songs. We were jamming together, and we loved it. It was our secret club.
I remember proudly telling dad when I was a kid, “Hey, the books on my shelf in my bedroom and the books on the shelf in your office are all about the same sort of things, dad.” To which he replied, “Ha! Absolutely!” Of course, the other way of saying that, Matthew, is you stole half my library!”
A lot’s been said about my dad’s sharp wit, but my two personal favourite off- the-cuff lines of his weren’t said on television, or even in front of a proper audience.
In fact, there was only one single person present. One was a doctor; the other was an 11-year-old me. Now, these lines don’t have a place in today’s proceedings, as both edge towards being a little risque. But what I love about them is that they were said to people who weren’t going to further his career, or write a great review. Dad purely wanted to pop the tension of an awkward situation, and see another human being light up and laugh. I honestly believe that that was the thing, apart from his family, that made dad the happiest. It was a superpower and he always tried to use it for good.
Over the last 10 years, while I’ve lived abroad, dad and I would play our conversational songs over Zoom and FaceTime – tools that allowed me to connect and in a way reconnect with my whole family, but especially with dad.
Everyone knows he was a great entertainer but what a lot of people don’t know about dad is that he wouldn’t just be around for the laughs. Those close to him experienced how he’d show up in the tough times too. No-one more than me. One final conversation a few days before we lost him was different from the usual, and we both knew it.
The change was never directly stated but we eschewed the stories and the laughness and just said how much we loved each other. During that wonderful chat, my mother was pottering around in the background, adding her two cents every now and again, and doing lovely things for dad, as usual. At one point, she took something into another room, and the second she left, dad leaned into the phone camera and whispered, “I think she’s poisoning my food, Matthew!”
Well, we both laughed, and laughed until we cried. Although given why we’re here today, mum, perhaps I should’ve taken him more seriously! Well, now, as much as dad would’ve loved that tag, it really doesn’t work, does it, mum, because you know, there’s not a lioness in the world who loved, supported and cherished her lion as much as you did dad. You two were a team, are a team, and even though your partner isn’t on stage any more, the show goes on, and you’ll be OK, mainly because you’ll have Lauren’s 97 children to take care of you.”
Truly, though, his grand kids became dad’s new favourite thing on the planet, and Sam, Eva, Lola, Monty, Purler and Alby gave him a new lease on life in his seventh and eighth decade.
Dad was the ultimate host or as he preferred to be called, compere, never presenter a term he loathed and if he was here today, he would be entertaining, moving, sincere and mischievous, expertly saying all the feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment, saving them from us.
And that’s how he’d want this day to be, with a wink, not a tear. So with that in mind, I’ll get out while the going’s good, and say to the man himself: Albert Watson Wilburforce Thomas Patrick Belmont Francis Archibald Kenneth John Aloisis Peter Newton, I’m gonna really miss jamming with you, mate. Here’s looking at you, kid.’