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From his X-Factor audition to his final dance, TV WEEK pays tribute to lovable joker Johnny Ruffo

'Fly high Johnny.'
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Johnny Ruffo was a 23-year-old concreter from Perth when he auditioned for The X Factor in 2011. “I’m a bit of a clown, but hopefully the ladies will like me,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll like my voice and my dancing as well.”

The ladies did like him. He had the crowd screaming at the auditions. Singing, dancing, acting – people loved him whatever he did, and his death earlier this month was mourned across the nation.

Johnny auditioned for X Factor in 2011.

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Mentored by Guy Sebastian, Johnny finished third on The X Factor and was offered a record deal. He stayed friends with Guy, recording a duet with him and helping him renovate his house.

In 2012, Johnny partnered with Luda Kroitor to win Dancing With The Stars. He danced the cha-cha-cha shirtless in the grand finale, prompting judge Helen Richey to say, “You should have taken the top off earlier, darling.”

It was a good year for Johnny, playing support for One Direction and making the top 30 with his first two singles, “On Top” and “Take It Home”.

He joined H&A in 2013.

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Johnny’s star kept rising. In 2013, he joined Home And Away as cheeky Chris Harrington, brother to Spencer (Andrew Morley). He told The Sydney Morning Herald that he hadn’t surfed a lot before he started filming.

“But I tell you one thing: I can definitely carry a surfboard,” he joked. “Nobody carries a surfboard as good as me.”

Chris’s storylines included being caught up in a love triangle with Denny (Jessica Grace Smith) and Casey (Lincoln Younes), and accidentally serving up poisonous mushrooms to Alf (Ray Meagher) and Leah (Ada Nicodemou), plus plenty of lighter moments with Irene (Lynne McGranger). Johnny and Lynne formed a lifelong bond, with Johnny calling Lynne “one of my best friends” and Lynne referring to Johnny as “the son I never had”.

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Johnny scored a TV WEEK Logie nomination for Most Popular New Talent, but in 2016, he left Summer Bay to pursue new challenges. By then he was in a relationship with Tahnee Sims, who he’d met at a dance studio.

The following year, Johnny announced he’d had surgery for a brain tumour. He underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and was declared cancer-free in 2019, but the cancer returned. He promised his fans he would “dig deep and beat this s*** disease again”.

Johnny wasn’t going to give up doing the things he loved. In 2020, he played prison guard Owen Campbell in Neighbours, and in 2021, he released his final single, “Let’s Get Lost”.

In 2022, he made an emotional return to Dancing With The Stars. “I’m really glad to be back performing,” he said at the time. “I just want to dance again.”

Johnny passed on November 10.

(Image: Supplied)

Johnny died on November 10, with his family and Tahnee by his side. Tributes poured in, including many from his former Home And Away co-stars.

Andrew said he was a “brother on and off screen” while Ada described him as “a true Aussie larrikin with a heart of gold”.

Lynne said he was “brave and cheeky” to the end. “Fly high free from pain,” she added. “You are missed.”

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