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Legendary Aussie journalist Steve Dunleavy dies aged 81

Tributes have poured in for the larger than life character and star tabloid journalist Steve Dunleavy, after he passed away aged 81.Courtesy: Supplied

Legendary Australian journalist Steve Dunleavy, whose tabloid mastery made him one of New York’s biggest media names, has died.

The 81-year-old passed away Monday, local time, at his Long Island home, according to his family.

Tributes were pouring in for the larger than life character, a columnist and broadcaster who also worked as a copyeditor and spent 40 years at The New York Post after starting in newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne.

Known for his utterly charming personality and rakish pompadour as much as his love of a gin and tonic and relentless news-breaking, Dunleavy was the inspiration for the tabloid TV reporter character played by Robert Downey Jnr in Natural Born Killers. Dunleavy also penned an expose of Elvis Presley’s drug-fuelled last days, which was published only a fortnight before the singer died.

TV producer Peter Brennan, another expat Aussie who made a name for himself in the US as founding producer of A Current Affair — with Dunleavy as star reporter — and reality show, Judge Judy, described his former colleague as “one of the best”.

“I am surprised that he is gone, he seemed like the kind of guy who could live forever,” Brennan told News Corp Australia.

Dunleavy retired in 2008 from the New York Post, dividing his time between his Long Island and Florida Keys homes.

Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman praised his former boss for teaching “me more about journalism than he would ever know”.

“I count myself extremely fortunate to have worked closely with this legend for a decade in the New York Bureau of News Limited from the early ‘70s to the early ‘80s,” Akerman said.

“I don’t use the term legend lightly. Steve cut a swathe that swept from Sydney to Hong Kong, London and New York.

“He was not only colourful and the model for the best tabloid journalists of the past century but he was a man of strong and sound beliefs with a great sense of morality though he would be the first to admit breaking almost every Biblical stricture.

“He was a hard drinker, he loved women and women loved him, he would do anything to get a story and he did.

“His writing was vibrant. His stories were exciting. He left his detractors from the Left in the dust. The stories about him were, if possible, even more amazing. The New Yorker magazine never stopped marvelling at his escapades.

“His column in the Star, a newspaper Rupert Murdoch created, was beloved of those who believed in America — and that included those who served in the armed forces and the cops, who adored him.”

Brennan described Dunleavy as: “the most extraordinary and competitive journalist that I have ever met”.

“I sat across a desk about three and a half years and I learnt more in that time than in decades in other parts of journalism,” he told News Corp Australia.

“He didn’t know the word stop, and he didn’t know the word give up. He fought to the last.

“He was a very big hearted, entertaining guy, the spirit in the middle of the room or in the party.”

Hailing from a family of journalists, Dunleavy’s early years in Sydney were marked by intense competition with his father, who worked for an opposition newspaper.

“He was raised by a newsman who was a photographer and it’s well known the stories about them competing when they were on opposition newspapers,” Brennan said.

“There are stories about his father locking him in a bathroom so he could get back to his paper first and them letting each other’s tires down but it was the name of the game then.

“To get a story he would push past anyone, his son, his best friend, his father.

“But everybody who met him never forgot him.”

Dunleavy is survived by his wife Gloria and sons, Peter, a US serviceman and police officer Sean.