Tension with Dame Kiri, affairs with women: Son's 'raw' book on Sir Howard Morrison's life

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 21 Oct 2020, 5:22PM
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sir Howard Morrison. Photo / Supplied
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sir Howard Morrison. Photo / Supplied

Tension with Dame Kiri, affairs with women: Son's 'raw' book on Sir Howard Morrison's life

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 21 Oct 2020, 5:22PM

A "raw" new book on the life of Sir Howard Morrison written by his son, Howie Morrison Jnr, reveals for the first time what it was like growing up in the shadows of the iconic entertainer.

The book, titled How Great Thou Art Sir Howard Morrison - the Untold Story, celebrates the remarkable achievements of Sir Howard while also touches on rumours of adultery and behind the scenes dramas, including being kicked out of Manila at gunpoint and alleged tensions with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the Knight With A Dame Concert.

It also reveals how Sir Howard was never keen to share the limelight, including with his namesake, and how he criticised his nephew, Temuera Morrison, for his role in Once Were Warriors.

Howard Morrison Junior with a copy of How Great Thou Art, his new book about his dad. Photo / Andrew Warner.Howard Morrison Junior with a copy of How Great Thou Art, his new book about his dad. Photo / Andrew Warner.

Morrison Jnr said the "raw and uncompromising insights" could now be told - just over 11 years since Sir Howard died in September 2009.

The book, which has been three years in the making, will be launched on Thursday night next week at the Te Puia, the first night of the two-night Howard Morrison Quartet Take Two show paying tribute to Sir Howard.

Morrison told the Rotorua Daily Post he and his two siblings, Donna Grant and Richard Morrison, owed a lot to their mother, Lady Kuia Morrison, for what she sacrificed throughout the decades of their father's touring around the world.

Lady Morrison suffers from dementia and is now living in Whare Aroha Home and Hospital in Rotorua.

The book, which is written in movie script genre, addresses how the family handled Morrison Jnr's concerns about Sir Howard's adultery while on tour.

In the book it details a particular conversation where Lady Kuia told Sir Howard she was "sick of your sorrys".

"Don't you think I know about all the other women. Bloody hell! The whole world knows, but you leave that crap on the road, you don't bring it home and rub it in my face," the book quotes Lady Kuia as saying.

While Sir Howard was singing for the Hilton Hotel chains throughout South East Asia, the book said first Lady Imelda Marcos would often frequent his shows in Manila. On one occasion, according to the book, she invited Sir Howard to perform a private concert for her at the Royal Palace.

Sir Howard Morrison. Photo / File

Sir Howard Morrison. Photo / File

Rumours started circulating throughout Manila and one morning at 1am there was a knock on the door at his Sir Howard's hotel suite, the book said.

Sir Howard was met with a man in a suit accompanied by two soldiers wielding automatic machine guns who informed him his contract was over and he would be sent to Bangkok.

Sir Howard frantically packed his bags and was led at gunpoint to a waiting limousine which took him to a private plane at the airport, the book said.

"Howard is absolutely terrified and genuinely concerned for his life," the book said.

The book said his minder later told him that with the rumours about Sir Howard and the First Lady, the "powers that be thought it better that you leave Manila".

Morrison said his book also revealed publicly for the first time alleged tensions between Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sir Howard at the Knight With a Dame Lakeside 2000 concert attended by 40,000 people at the Rotorua International Stadium.

The book said Sir Howard was taken aback by Dame Kiri's alleged manner.

"Even I'm not that demanding," the book quoted Sir Howard as saying.

"And I'll be the first to admit I can be a pompous pr**k."

Sir Howard was also allegedly told by Dame Kiri, according to the book, there was to be "no banter" and he wasn't to communicate with the audience, just sing.

After the first half of the show, the book said good friend and fellow entertainer Frankie Stevens noticed there was something up with Sir Howard's performance so hit him up backstage.

"Come on, doy! This isn't you and you know it. Give the people what they want," the book said Stevens said.

Sir Howard then apparently said: "You'd be right, doy. No one comes into my backyard and dictates to me. No Dame! And certainly no toffee-nosed MD (musical director)! Thank you for reminding me of who I am, Frankie."

The second half of the show was completely different, with Sir Howard injecting humour and interacting with the crowd.

The book said Dame Kiri and the musical director allegedly confronted Sir Howard in his dressing room after the concert, with Dame Kiri apparently calling him unprofessional and disrespecting her.

The book claims she told him he turned the "classy concert" into a "common pub gig fit for drunks" and she allegedly said she would never share the stage with him again.

First in the dressing room to console the despondent Sir Howard was Lady Kuia.

Morrison Jnr said the book detailed his father's finest moments in his career including having his idol, Sammy Davis Jnr, make a surprise visit at his concert in Hawaii and meeting Luciano Pavarotti, at Pavarotti's request.

It also goes into details about how a pōhiri

for Michael Jackson organised by Sir Howard went wrong in Auckland. Sir Howard had invited champion performers Waka Huia to perform but moments before it got under way Ngati Whatua, the tangatawhenua of the area, arrived taking exception they were not asked.

The mix-up was sorted out and eventually the two groups performed a "hair-raising, thunderous" pōhiri.

But the book said the young boys accompanying Jackson clung to Jackson shaking with fear, causing Jackson to interrupt and say: "Please no! Please! Stop! No more! You're scaring my little friends."

The pōhiri came to an abrupt end.

Morrison Jnr said no matter how much he loved and respected his father for his achievements, it was hard growing up with a man who never wanted to share the spotlight.

He said it always bugged him his father never asked him to sing on any of his albums, which was part of the reason the first song on Morrison's own latest album was called "Mum".

The book details several times when Sir Howard wasn't happy when Morrison Jnr shone, including at the 2008 To Sir With Love concert in Rotorua.

The "penultimate item" was Morrison Jnr singing Exodus incorporating whānau members, with the book saying it stole the show.

The book said Morrison Jnr leaned in to give his father a hug but Sir Howard instead whispered in his ear: "Stop singing my bloody songs and sing your f**king own."

After Temuera Morrison won Best Actor for his role of Jake the Muss in Once Were Warriors, the book said Sir Howard summoned him to his home and told him his nanny would have been "disgusted with all the swearing and violence" and the movie made "our people out to be nothing more than wife bashers and boozers".

The book said Morrison Jnr later consoled his cousin, telling him "you know what Dad's like, cuz ... If the spotlight ain't shining on him."

Historic Personalities: Michael Jackson Sir Howard Morrison greets Michael Jackson with a traditional hongi. Photo / File

Historic Personalities: Michael Jackson Sir Howard Morrison greets Michael Jackson with a traditional hongi. Photo / File

The Morrison whānau

Morrison said he has written the book with the blessing of his siblings and wider family to tell the stories.

The book is dedicated to his mother, whose memory was fading.

He said up until recently he and his siblings cared for their mum 24/7 as they felt the time was right to dedicate their lives to her, after she dedicated her life to them.

He said it was a sad day recently when they had to move her into the home.

He said it was difficult for the children to see their mother like this.

"She doesn't know our names but she recognises us. When I go to visit she points at me and says 'there he is, there is that man'."

The book has been written with support from the Ngāti Whakaue Education Endowment Trust Board and Sir Owen Glenn.

Text by Kelly Makiha, NZME