‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ star, John Blackman’s battle with cancer

''Cancer won’t stop me laughing!''
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His trademark smile may look a little different these days, and his memory less razor sharp, but Hey Hey It’s Saturday star John Blackman still radiates the sparkling wit that kept TV viewers in stitches.

For the past five years, John, 76, has repeatedly undergone major surgery on his face and skull to remove cancerous tumours.

After multiple surgeries, he has a titanium mesh plate in his head. (Image: Supplied)

The health setbacks have taken their toll, with the famous funnyman no longer able to do the work he loves.

Even so, John refuses to wallow in self-pity, reflecting, “Thankfully, I still have my sense of humour. They did not remove that!”

John’s life changed dramatically when, in 2018, after visiting his doctor about a seemingly minor blemish on his chin, he was stunned to learn he had an aggressive form of skin cancer in his mouth and jaw.

He recounted to the Herald Sun how his surgeon told him, “Look John, your life is going to change completely from now on. Professionally, financially, emotionally, it is never going to be the same again. You will never work in front of a mic again.”

In a 12-hour operation, John’s lower jaw and teeth were removed, and his jaw was replaced with a part of his thigh bone.

“It’s like I ploughed into a tree and my life changed forever,” he later recounted.

Frustratingly for the Melbourne broadcaster, his speech patterns have changed.

“I sound like a very drunk Uncle Arthur when I’m on the phone!”

Then in 2022, he again went under the knife, this time needing the top of his skull removed to extract bone cancer.

John was the voice of Plucka Duck and Dickie Knee. (Image: Supplied)

“Then, not so long ago, on my birthday last year, something else grew up there,” John said. “So I’ve had three operations.”

Even so, he manages to look at the bright side, even making light of his memory loss.

“Watching old episodes of Hey Hey, it’s like I’m watching every episode for the first time. I don’t remember any of it… but I’m getting a great deal of enjoyment out of all of it!” he chuckles.

John’s family and friends remain in awe of his positive outlook.

Musician and fellow Hey Hey star Wilbur Wilde still regularly catches up with John, “and we still make each other laugh!” he tells Woman’s Day.

Wilbur, 68, whose father died when he was young, is proud to call the older man a close friend.

“He’s my hero!” he nods.

“Even before I met him, I looked up to John Blackman, who was such a successful radio broadcaster. And I still look up to him – well for some things, definitely not everything!” he adds with a chuckle.

He spent 28 years as an announcer on Hey Hey. (Image: Supplied)

It’s a sentiment echoed by others in the showbiz world, including entertainer and TV personality Tottie Goldsmith, 61.

“John is just a beautiful person,” she says. “Whenever I worked with him on Hey Hey, he was so warm and fun and self-deprecating, just one of the most joyous human beings.”

“When I last ran into John at a function, it was wonderful to see him. Because he’d recently had surgery, he said, ‘I can’t believe you recognised me.’ Yes, maybe he looks a little different but those warm, sparkling eyes are still just the same. He’s still such fun.”

Actor-musician Frankie J Holden, 71, agrees. “John is an incredibly unique talent – so ‘appropriately inappropriate’ and quick-witted but humble.”

“When I was trying to raise funds for a pool here in Merimbula, he came up and spoke at a luncheon for me, just because I asked him. Despite his health issues, he’s still full of joy and happiness.”

John, meanwhile, remains philosophical about his health. “There are people much worse off than us,” he reflects.

“It doesn’t matter how important or smart you think you are, everyone has some sort of adversity in their life.”

John’s beloved wife of more than 50 years, Cecile, has been by his side every step of the way, continuing to tolerate his sillier jokes – “Want to know the secret of a successful marriage? She goes her way, you go her way!” is one of his gags.

“Cecile has been an absolute rock and I could not have got through without her,” he told the Herald Sun. “I owe it all to her, and I will say that until the day I die.”

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