John and I never worked together again after the Marrakech trip. Though we often didn’t see each other for long stretches, our friendship never seemed to fade. There were a few occasions when I would sometimes stop into one of his gigs and sing harmonies for him on a song or two, or help him tweak the sound system so the show would sound its best “out front”. He always appreciated that. “The doctor is in the house!”, he’d cry, smiling his big smile and laughing his big laugh.
I would never say that John and I were the closest of friends but we were pals and we really enjoyed each other’s company when we had it. Each time we saw each other, it felt like we had only just walked off the stage in Marrakech. 2007 came and went that way and we were well into 2008 when disaster struck.
In summer 2008 John had a stroke, news that sent a shockwave through the Paris community that new him. Initially, the odds of him ever playing guitar, or even singing again, seemed slim. He started into what was going to be a laborious recovery but one that to my mind seemed possible. His laugh certainly recovered quickly – I could hear it down the hall as I approached his hospital room! One afternoon he we were watching “Family Guy” together on a portable DVD player. The nurses came in to scold him for laughing so loud, he was disturbing the other patients!
After a month in hospital John had started to regain sensation in his affected limbs, his speech was clear and was starting to exercise his vocal cords. He may never have played guitar again but at this stage everyone was hopeful that he’d still continue singing. He was allowed home to continue his recovery but his condition suddenly deteriorated, and he weakened at a worrying pace.
On the afternoon of Saturday 20th of September, Mary phoned me and explained John’s condition and asked me if I could sit with John on the Monday afternoon while she ran some errands. Of course, I was only too happy to oblige and was looking forward to seeing him again, though I knew he’d be very ill. But we never got there.
Just twelve hours since I last spoke to her, at 5am on Sunday morning Mary called again. John had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and was being rushed into hospital. I jumped in a cab and rushed over to be with her. The news was as bad as it could be. This was the end.
I am enormously proud and honoured to have been there for Mary, a dear and wonderful friend in her own right. A few other close friends of John and Mary’s also came to the hospital that day. Barry Johnson and Rob McHardy are two particularly that I remember in my haze of grief and fatigue. Barry, who was a very dear friend to John and Mary, arrived first thing in the morning and stayed well into the afternoon. Another great performer in his own right, Barry was a man I had known of for years but never knew personally – without realising it, John brought us together and I’m eternally grateful for it.
I am also very proud and honoured to have been able to say goodbye to John in his last hours, on behalf of us all. To hold his hand, to wipe and kiss his brow, to tell him how much he was loved, how much joy he gave us, and that he could go in peace and escape the horrific torture his body was going through.
I stayed by John and Mary’s side through the night. John mercifully and peacefully passed away just after dawn on Monday, September 22nd, 2008. He was just 52 years old.