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"RII" 2008 Obituary


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RIIVES o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-05-17 published
Journalist roared through life 'like a movie star with charisma'
Globe-trotting reporter, who for three decades rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, lived a life that was the antithesis of his United Church, strait-laced Toronto upbringing
By Brian VALLEE, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S12
Toronto -- Paul KING was a swashbuckling Canadian journalist, author, artist and consummate raconteur who roared through life with an unquenchable curiosity and joy of the moment.
"He was like a movie star - brimming with charisma; trailing cigarette smoke as he lunged ever forward; talking out of the corner of his mouth in a raspy commanding drawl - right out of a 1930s newspaper movie," said Ron BASE, his long-time friend, fellow author and screenwriter. "He was unique, wonderful, irreplaceable and a helluva fine writer."
The life he led was the antithesis of the strait-laced religious family (his father was a United Church minister) in which he was brought up. After graduating from Toronto's Central Tech high school, his first job was as a window dresser at Simpson's department store. Soon bored, he went with a couple of Friends to Miami and then to Nassau in the Bahamas where in 1955 he began working as a lifeguard at the British Colonial Hotel. It was his "softest job ever."
Most guests simply basked in the sun. Very few swam. Only one guest concerned him - a water skier who went out only when there were monstrous breakers which he attacked like a halfback. "It's fantastic exercise," he told Mr. KING with broad grin.
"He's mad," complained Mr. KING to another guest, who laughed.
"No, he's not," the guest said, "he's Britain's top race-car driver, Sterling Moss."
One morning, Mr. KING was on lifeguard duty when his boss told him the beach had been privately reserved by honeymooners, actress Debbie Reynolds and crooner Eddie Fisher. "Debbie was sunning on a lounge chair and some guy was combing Eddie's hair," Mr. KING said. "I dozed off until I heard Debbie screaming hysterically. She was pointing frantically at Eddie, arms flailing, a few yards out in the water. I reached him in seconds. He panicked, pushed me down and kicked my ear. I was gulping water, so I grabbed him by the groin and squeezed. Then I felt the sandy bottom and dragged him out. They left later that day without a word of thanks."
Mr. KING returned to Toronto and began studying journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic, now a university. In the summer of 1958, he worked as an intern at The Vancouver Sun. His high-school sweetheart, Ivi RIIVES, followed him there and they were married before he returned to Ryerson and graduated with honours in 1959.
The Vancouver paper had liked what it saw and hired him as its entertainment editor and columnist. In his new job, he was enjoying the first half hour of the musical Oklahoma at Stanley Park's Theatre Under the Stars when a noticeably bald man sat down beside him and started humming along. When he began to sing the words, Mr. KING complained.
"Oh God, I'm sorry," the man murmured.
"I finally snapped when I heard 'Poooor Jud is daid,' coming both from the stage and the seat beside me," Mr. KING would write years later.
"Would you please shut up," he hissed.
After that, the man remained silent until the end of the performance. "I apologize," he said putting on his cap.
Mr. KING stared at him. He knew the voice and, with the cap on, he knew the face. He'd been sitting beside Bing Crosby without a toupee.
"I feel like I just told Fred Astaire to get off a dance floor," he offered by way of an apology. Mr. Crosby whooped with glee.
Perhaps his biggest scoop for The Sun was the death of Errol Flynn. The famed Hollywood actor had arrived in Vancouver in October of 1959 to sell his yacht to a local stock promoter. Mr. KING met them at a nightclub known for its ties to the mob. Mr. Flynn, then 50 and notorious for three statutory rape trials, was with his 16-year-old girlfriend. "Booze had bloated his once-handsome face, but the radiant smile remained," Mr. KING wrote.
When the actor said he felt ill, Mr. KING steered him through a side exit and into an alley. "He gagged up his booze and then groaned, 'Christ mate, I'm getting old.' "
They parted ways and agreed to meet the next day. Later, the stock promoter called to say they had stopped somewhere for a nightcap and that he should rejoin them. He dutifully arrived only to see an ambulance. Mr. Flynn was dead, felled by heart and liver disease.
In 1960, Paul and Ivi KING decided to leave Canada for Japan. "We just went," Ms. KING said. "We didn't have jobs. We wanted to see Japan before it changed too much." They would stay for almost four years. Mr. KING worked, simultaneously, as a film critic and columnist for the Mainichi Daily News; chief English-language copywriter for an advertising agency; and as co-producer of a popular television show.
Tall, charming and Hollywood-handsome, Mr. KING often attracted women. He and Ms. KING were soon having marital problems and she left Japan to work in Hong Kong. Mr. KING followed soon after. It was there in Kowloon's bars and nightclubs that he would meet and drink many nights away with a cast of characters that included crooks, cops, musicians, exotic dancers and actors such as William Holden, Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole.
"I stayed in Hong Kong and worked there and Paul went on to Switzerland where we had Friends," Ms. KING said. "He was going there to write but, of course, he did not publish a book. He had more fun than anything else."
It was 1964, and he found himself reporting from the set of the movie Doctor Zhivago on the outskirts of Madrid. It was there under a full moon in a deserted massive plaza created for the movie that he interviewed Alec Guinness. Dressed in a commissar's uniform and fur hat, the actor had been enjoying the solitude and seemed unhappy with the intrusion.
"Why aren't you starring in movies any more?"
"What?" a startled Mr. Guinness asked.
Mr. KING told him how he had loved the old British comedies in which the actor had starred, citing The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit. Since then, he said, Mr. Guinness had played superb character roles in Bridge on the River Kwai, A Passage to India, Lawrence of Arabia and then Zhivago, but they weren't starring roles.
Mr. Guinness laughed when he realized the later movies were all directed by David Lean. "He gave me my first big role in Great Expectations and I've taken every part he's offered ever since. It's all his fault."
After that, the actor chatted happily for the next hour.
The next day a frazzled publicist cornered Mr. KING and told him he had been banned from the set for telling Mr. Guinness that he was no longer a star. Attending a party a day or two later, Mr. KING fled to the balcony when Mr. Lean entered the apartment. He found Mr. Guinness on the balcony admiring the moon.
"Beautiful isn't it," he said.
"I'm not speaking to you," Mr. KING said. "You twisted my words."
Mr. Guinness chuckled. "Yes I did. I wanted to get David's goat."
"Well you succeeded. He banned me from the set."
"Oh my, my. We must do something about that."
Taking him by the arm, Mr. Guinness led him back to the party. Mr. Lean glowered at them. "David," Mr. Guinness said, "I have a confession."
Hearing what had actually been said, Mr. Lean agreed to allow Mr. KING back on the set provided he stay out of his line of sight.
By 1965, Mr. KING was in London where he worked for a time for the Daily Mail. There was a reconciliation of sorts with his wife and she followed him to Rome when he took a job with a talent agency. "It ended up being a lot of night life," she said. "So I left him there."
His job was to look after movie stars such as Clint Eastwood, Eva Marie Saint, James Garner, Yves Montand and Rita Hayworth. "There are a lot of stories about Clint Eastwood that I can probably never tell," he once said.
For his part, he was romantically involved with Ms. Hayworth who was in Rome filming The Rover with Anthony Quinn.
The actor lived in a villa an hour outside Rome and when he invited Ms. Hayworth to a party, she asked Mr. KING to go along. When they arrived, Mr. Quinn, dressed in a red sweatsuit and sneakers, met them at the door. The other guests included eight dapper lawyers and businessmen and their wives or girlfriends. "This is bizarre," Ms. Hayworth whispered.
Mr. KING said it got really weird when Mr. Quinn clapped his hands and ordered everyone inside to play bingo around an enormous dining table. Each guest had to give the host $20 in lira for a bingo card and corn markers. "We played bingo for 60 excruciating minutes," Mr. KING said. "Only Quinn enjoyed himself - barking out numbers and handing cash to winners."
When one of the guests finally had enough, the host looked crestfallen. "You don't like bingo?"
That was enough for Ms. Hayworth. "Oh, for God's sake, Tony," she said throwing her cache of corn across the table. "This is stupid."
Mr. Quinn's wife rushed in smiling and said dinner was ready. "Superb tenderloin was served," Mr. KING said. "During dessert, Quinn circled the table with a wicker basket filled with semi-precious stones. Each guest chose one. It was a lovely gesture. I carried mine in my pocket for years."
As they left the villa, Ms. Hayworth kissed her co-star on the cheek. "I'll give you a tip, old buddy," she said. "Next time, play Parcheesi."
In 1967, Mr. KING returned to Canada and worked on the television series Under Attack with Pierre Burton.
The following year, he worked for a time as an entertainment writer for The Globe and Mail and then became a feature writer for the magazine The Canadian where he was to stay for seven years. His and Ms. KING's only child, Michelle, was born in 1971. However, the couple separated for good in 1974, but remained Friends.
In 1975, he became a reporter and columnist for the Toronto Star and remained there for a decade.
In the late seventies, he met Barbara FULTON who would be his lover and companion for the next 30 years. "I loved his zest for life and living in the moment," she said. "He had an amazing wit and sense of humour. We laughed and laughed and it never went away."
In 1985, they packed up and moved to a small Spanish mountain village. They were gone for more than a year. He had time for watercolour painting and together they wrote magazine and newspaper travel stories to survive. "It was idyllic," she said. "Absolutely fabulous."
They would later travel extensively through Mexico, writing articles as they went. Later, after returning to Toronto, Mr. KING wrote several books for Key Porter, including Cottage Country (1991) and Mountains of America (1992). He also was ghost writer for two autobiographies by Ed Mirvish of Honest Ed's department store.
In 1995, he had a brush with cancer. A carcinoid tumour was removed from his small bowel and doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto discovered it had spread to his liver.
He thought it was a death sentence, but he underwent treatment and continued to travel. Each summer, he escaped to the cottage. "We both loved it," Ms. FULTON said. "Paul called it his oasis and last summer was just blissful."
He knew a lot about pain, but on Sunday, May 4, it was excruciatingly different. They had been eating a quiet dinner in their Toronto apartment when he began to choke and cough. "A bully has moved in," he announced through gritted teeth.
When first diagnosed with cancer in 1995, Mr. KING went to a doctor for advice about how to die. Afterward, he and Ms. FULTON met a friend for a drink in a bar. She was drying her tears he was stoic. "The doctor said to forget chemo," he said. "All it does is give you a couple of extra months of sheer misery. Instead, he said to travel where you want to travel; do the things you want to do; see the people you want to see; and when the pain is too much, take morphine until you're done. And that's what I'm going to do."
And so he did.
He was dead five days after being admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital.
Paul KING was born on December 14, 1935, on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario. He died of cancer in Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital on May 9, 2008. He was 72. He is survived by his companion, Barbara Fulton; brother, John; and daughter Michelle. He also leaves his former wife, Ivi KING, and granddaughters Finnoula, Sinead and Bronach.

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