Curtain comes down for the much-loved 'king of cabaret'

Legendary cabaret singer Sonny Knowles has been described as “a great dad and a great man” after he died yesterday aged 86.

The Dubliner died peacefully at his home surrounded by his family, ‘Liveline’ presenter Joe Duffy announced.

Knowles grew up in the Liberties and started out working as a tailor before he found a career in showbusiness.

He played the clarinet and saxophone in the Dublin Musical School and quickly fell in love with performing.

He rose to prominence during the showband era, performing in the Johnny Butler Band, Earl Gill’s Band, the Pacific Showband and Dermot O’Brien’s showband.

Songwriter and broadcaster Shay Healy paid tribute to his old friend, highlighting his kind nature and charming sense of humour.

“We all enjoyed him for what he was. He was a very funny character. He was an honest performer in that he gave great value for money,” he told the Irish Independent.

“Back in those days, there was no line of demarcation between a showbiz singer and an accountant. You’d all be drinking in the same clubs.

“He was a very nice guy. He was very entertaining, a great man for stories.”

The singer is survived by his wife Sheila and children, Geraldine, Aisling and Gary.

Speaking on ‘Liveline’, Geraldine told how she and the rest of the family were by his side when he passed away.

“It’s wonderful to hear [the tributes]. I’m very grateful. He passed away this morning,” she said.

“He went downhill very quickly since Monday but it was very peaceful and I know he’s in a better place now.

“We were able to spend time with him this morning and he went peacefully away.”

Geraldine lives in Australia where, she said, her parents had spent considerable time in recent years.

“He used to forget how hot it would get out there. They used to come out and spend three, four months at a time with us. He did like it,” she said.

“I have grandchildren now too and he has great-grandchildren out there. He was a great dad, a great man.

“I looked at him this morning shortly after he passed away and I thought, ‘how lucky were we to have you?’ I’m very proud of him.”

Geraldine added that she believed her mother was in “a state of shock” in the wake of her husband’s death.

“They were 65, 66 years together. God love her, it’s very sad to watch,” she said.

DJ and singer Maxi, whose real name is Irene McCoubrey, spoke of the sound advice Knowles imparted to her when she was a member of girl group Maxi, Dick and Twink.

“He was so proud of [his family]. He said to me one time, ‘Everything is a turning point chicken. It’s just a turning point, just keep going.’

“He showed a great example for everybody. ‘Learn something else, there’s always something out there. It’s a crazy business, that’s what you sign up for.’ Generous with his time. I had to pull in and have a good cry [when I heard the news]. I’m heartbroken. What a gentleman.”

Dublin woman Veronica Hearst (72) had met the iconic singer several times over the years after he worked with her mother Angela and aunt Deirdre in Polikoffs factory.

“My grandfather would have been his boss. My grandfather said when they were singing, they were working. In the 40s in the factories, they would sing all day,” she said.

“That was the way it was. Sonny and my aunt used to do duets together. They would have been the same age, they would have been mid-teens at that stage.

“He asked her out for a date and she wouldn’t go because he’d no overcoat. This was the story my mother told us and I half-believed it. We met Sonny several times and he said, ‘Oh yes, I remember it well.’

“We met him at cabarets and he always came over to my mother,” she added.

Joe Duffy said he knew Knowles for years and spoke fondly of him throughout the programme.

“I led the campaign to crown Sonny Knowles the king of cabaret. Above all, he was a gentleman. Deeply saddened at his passing. A great musician, singer, friend, husband and father.” he said.

“I idolised him. One of nature’s gentlemen. My condolences to Sheila, Geraldine Gary and Aisling, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

RTÉ’s Ronan Collins said: “A very sad day, he was just a superb person. It was always a joy to work with Sonny, musicians were his friends on the stage and he made them feel like stars.

“He was an extraordinary man. He was a master.”

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