DAVE DONNELLY / HAWAII ICON
showman dies at 66
He had numerous roles in radio,
theater and television shows
Honolulu Star-Bulletin columnist Dave Donnelly, who entertained readers, listeners, television viewers and theatergoers in Hawaii for more than 40 years in Hawaii, died last night in the Queen's Medical Center. He was 66.
As a radio disc jockey, as Mr. Checkers on the KGMB children's show "Checkers and Pogo" and as a columnist for 35 years, Donnelly was a part of Hawaii's cultural landscape.
"Dave was a friend of the family for many generations in Hawaii," said Frank Bridgewater, editor of the Star-Bulletin. "He entertained, informed and even admonished in his own amusing and, at times, irascible way. We will miss him as a member of the Star-Bulletin family, and our readers will miss him as one of the strongest voices for all things good about Hawaii."
Fellow KPOI disc jockey Jack Kellner said: "I think he would want to be remembered as a chronicler of the business and entertainment culture of Hawaii. He was a person who made and kept friends over many years. I never heard or saw him being combative or argumentative with people. He didn't make enemies; he made friends."
Donnelly was admitted to Queen's at 7 a.m. yesterday and had been in the intensive care unit much of the day before he died just after 6 p.m., said caregiver and friend Anthony Moon. Survivors include his son, Brendan.
"I really feel a great loss," said island promoter Tom Moffatt, who knew Donnelly for over 40 years and served as best man when he wed former wife, publicist Sheila Donnelly. "He was a good guy. He was very bright, sometimes cynical, but always likable."
Donnelly, originally of Iowa, landed his first Hawaii media job just out of the Navy in 1961 as a newsman at KPOI radio station. Before long, he was moved to the music desk, where he became a disc jockey known as "The Moose" and was a member of the original "Poi Boys," who helped popularize rock and roll music in Hawaii.
STAR-BULLETIN / 1999|
Jimmy Borges, left, and Henry Woltag, right, kid around with Dave Donnelly outside of Hawaii Theatre before his "roast" on Bethel Street.
One memorable promotional gag was Donnelly broadcasting on the air for as long as he could stay awake, which turned out to be about two days, Kellner said.
"When somebody is deprived of sleep for too long, they really go kind of nuts," Kellner said. "It was funny."
From radio, Donnelly moved to television. He became "Mr. Checkers" on a locally produced children's show and landed at least a dozen parts, including that of an aging hippie, on "Hawaii 5-0."
Meanwhile, Donnelly was acting in local theater productions and trying his hand at writing and directing plays. Friends say the theater would remain one of Donnelly's greatest passions.
"When I saw Dave acting, it was another dimension," said Ray Sweeney, who has known Donnelly since the two worked together at KPOI. "He may not have been an award-winning actor, but he was great to watch when he did it."
Don Murphy, owner of Murphy's Bar and Grill, helped his longtime friend gather props for Donnelly's last play, "The Weir," which played in April at the Yellow Brick Studio. Donnelly directed the production, set in a rural Irish pub and detailing what two men will do to get a woman.
"He loved to be involved in the theater," Murphy said. "I'm going to truly miss him. ... He was a great character of our community."
By the time Donnelly came to the Star-Bulletin in 1968, he was already well-known in the community's entertainment industry.
The newspaper introduced his long-running column with, "Dave Donnelly is going to write Monday through Friday on the events of Hawaii as seen from his particular point of view."
And that's what he did.
Star-Bulletin reporter Burl Burlingame, in an article on Donnelly's 30th anniversary at the newspaper, called him "part of Hawaii's cultural landscape," adding, "His column probably gives a truer picture of what's on Hawaii's mind over the years than any number of polls."
"He was really a multimedia person before that term became fashionable," said Ron Jacobs, a former KPOI music director who hired Donnelly while at the station.
"Donnelly was smart, witty, one of the few people in Honolulu who can justify being called urbane," Jacobs said. "We did some really wild and woolly things. The most memorable moments I can think of are not suitable for publication."
Friends also say Donnelly put his work above all else. During a life-threatening illness in the 1990s, someone suggested Donnelly give up his Star-Bulletin column. Donnelly's response, according to Moon: "I'm a professional and I always meet deadline."
In 1994, Donnelly had a brush with death when, in his words, "I went for a doctor's appointment at Kaiser Medical Center and my liver seemingly exploded."
Two liver operations and a month later, he was back cranking out columns, noting in a 1999 column: "It gives me great satisfaction to note than I haven't taken a sick day off since. Thanks, Kaiser, and thanks to all the many friends who stood by me."
Donnelly broke his hip in the San Francisco airport the day after Thanksgiving -- on the first day of a monthlong vacation.
"I Broke My Hip, In San Francisco," Donnelly quipped in his Jan. 2 column. Typically, even while laid up in hospitals and rehab units, he was gathering column information from Hawaii ex-pats.
Nadine Kam, Star-Bulletin features editor, said she assured Donnelly he didn't have to come back to work immediately after his painful vacation, but he insisted on working, she said. "He was doing what he loved till the end."
Services are pending.