The Australian cartoonist Bill Leak dies

The Australian’s cartoonist Bill Leak has passed away, aged 61.

According to a report just published in The Australian, Leak died in Gosford Hospital of a suspected heart attack.

The Australian said editor in chief Paul Whittaker announced the news to staff today, saying Leak was “simply irreplaceable”.

“I know that many people at The Australian will be inconsolable over this tragic loss of such a good man,” he told staff.

In a statement, Whittaker said: “It is with huge sadness and shock that I share the news of Bill Leak’s passing today.

“We will miss him dreadfully and our hearts go out to his wife Goong, his step-daughter Tasha and his sons Johannes and Jasper.

“Bill was a giant in his field of cartooning and portraiture. He was a towering figure for more than two decades as The Australian’s editorial cartoonist. Our friend Bill is simply irreplaceable.

“Bill’s last public event on Wednesday night to launch his new book was a great triumph. He spoke with his trademark wit and wisdom to a room filled with friends, colleagues and fans, all of whom wished him well and expressed great appreciation of his strength and his unwavering commitment to free speech and true Australian values.”

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said in a statement: “Bill was a man of extraordinary talent – one of the premier cartoonists of his generation but also a highly accomplished portrait painter and writer.

“His stature in our industry among contemporary cartoonists was unsurpassed and in my opinion, he was at the pinnacle of his long career.

“Few can match Bill’s career achievements: two News Awards for cartoonist of the year, nine Walkley awards for excellence in journalism, 19 Stanley Awards from the Australian Cartoonists’ Association and an Archibald Prize finalist 12 times.

“His portraits of Bob Hawke and Bill Hayden hang in Canberra’s Parliament House and his portraits of Sir Donald Bradman, Dick Woolcott and Robert Hughes are in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

“But most of all Bill was Bill: a man with a unique talent for understanding the most complex of issues and cutting through the smokescreens to focus Australians on the real issues no matter how confronting.

“He was brave and insightful, provocative, at times outrageous, irreverent but always clear and brilliant – and most of all passionate. He was one of Australia’s greatest champions of freedom of speech.

“However what really set Bill apart and made him an industry legend was that he was incredibly funny. We will never forget the humour in his work and his wit and laughter as a person.”

Over the course of his career, which included more than two decades with The Australian, Leak won nine Walkley Awards and 19 Stanley awards.

Leak had also just launched his book, Trigger Warning, on Wednesday.

At the launch, Leak – who caused controversy last year with a cartoon depicting an indigenous man holding a drink who did not appear to know his own son’s name – said political correctness was a “a poison that attacks the sense of humour” that “infects an awful lot of precious little snowflakes”.

The cartoon received over 700 complaints but The Press Council refused to make a ruling on it, deciding “the best outcome in the public interest is to promote free speech and the contest of ideas through the publication of two major op-ed pieces in The Australian, providing Indigenous perspectives on the cartoon and shedding light on the underlying issues”.

In the wake of news of Leak’s death, some on social media have ignited debate about what they viewed as his racist, homophobic and bigoted cartoons. Others, however, have pointed out cartoonists are meant to be “fearless” and highlighted his skills as a portrait artist.


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