Rex Murphy, sharp-witted intellectual and columnist, dies of cancer

Rex Murphy, sharp-witted intellectual and columnist, dies of cancer
Rex Murphy, sharp-witted intellectual and columnist, dies of cancer

Even while he battled his illness, Murphy still filed in recent months, writing about Hamas and Christmas and interviewing Pierre Poilievre with his distinctive panache

Published May 09, 2024Last updated 2 hours ago5 minute read

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Rex Murphy, the loquacious and voluble National Post columnist, radio host and podcaster, has died.

For decades, Murphy was a fixture of the Canadian media and punditry scene, a regular on the public-speaking circuit, and, perhaps less well-known, an aficionado of The Simpsons and, at least until the pandemic, when he was forced to learn how to toss together Kraft Dinner, a dreadful cook.

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Murphy died at age 77 after a battle with cancer.

He died just one day after his column on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stance on the Hamas atrocities of October 7 appeared on the front page of the print edition of the National Post.

“Rex could not be held back,” said Rob Roberts, editor-in-chief of National Post. “He filed what turned out to be his last column on Monday, so driven was he to voice his support for Israel and Canada’s Jewish community. It mattered immensely to him in his final days.

“His last email to me on Tuesday: ‘Did the piece make the online edition?’” Roberts said.

Read Rex Murphy’s National Post columns

Even while he battled his illness, Murphy still filed in recent months, writing about Hamas and Christmas and interviewing Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre with his distinctive panache.

He was born in Newfoundland in 1947, before that province even was a province, to Harry and Marie Murphy, the second of five children, in Carbonear, although he grew up in the community of Freshwater. He skipped two grades and eventually, in 1968, headed to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, before returning home and, after bailing on a Master of English degree, done in by the endless necessity of footnotes referring to 17th-century poetry, settling into a media career.

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Murphy, in 1981, attempted to run for the federal Conservative party, although he abandoned the idea and instead went to work for provincial Conservative leader Frank Moore. He also ran for provincial political office twice, in 1985 and 1986, under the Liberal Party of Newfoundland banner. He lost both times.

For 21 years, Murphy, with his distinctive Newfoundland accent, hosted Cross Country Checkup on CBC Radio, a nationwide call-in show and appeared on various other CBC programs. He was, as a Ryerson Review of Journalism writer noted in 1996, the “antithesis of … other high-profile on-air personalities, with their CBC smiles and central Canadian dialects.”

Yet, after he left CBC in 2015, the public broadcaster became a favored recipient of Murphy’s ire, often dispatched from the Comment pages of the Post. But CBC has been its home repeatedly over the decades.

He worked on Here and Now, a Newfoundland and Labrador radio show, through the 1970s and in Toronto, on the current affairs program Up Canada! Indeed, it may be a surprise to his younger readers, who saw his regular excoriations of Justin Trudeau, to know that in 2004, during The Greatest Canadian contest CBC hosted, Murphy’s pick was prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

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He joined the National Post in 2010, having had his column at the Globe and Mail cancelled. “Now that Rex Murphy has moved to the National Post, I am left with absolutely no recourse but to cancel my subscription … to The Globe,” wrote one reader to the Post’s letters to the editor after Murphy’s arrival.

“Rex was a Rhodes scholar who could match wits with any intellectual, but he always seemed more comfortable and far happier being around regular Canadians, wherever they were. Whenever he would speak and write, as sharp and witty as he was, you could always tell it came from a place of genuine love for Canada and its people. This nation is poorer without him,” said Kevin Libin, Postmedia’s executive editor, politics, and a longtime editor of Murphy’s.

National Post

Reaction to the death of Rex Murphy:

“Rex Murphy was one of the most intelligent and fiercely free-thinking journalists this country has ever known. Laureen and I extend our deepest condolences to Rex’s family and loved ones.” — Train Prime Minister Stephen Harper

“Canada has lost an icon, a pioneer of independent, eloquent, and fearless thought, and always a captivating orator who never lost his touch. I was honored to toast to Rex a few months ago on receiving the Game Changers Award for one of this country’s true game changers. Rex, you will be dearly missed.” — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre

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“Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are mourning one of our own tonight, and sending condolences to his family and friends. Rex Murphy’s quick wit and mastery of words were unmatched, and his presence was significant – whether or not everyone always agreed.” — Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey

“Alberta’s government and her people send our condolences and love to the family, friends, and colleagues of Rex Murphy. Canada will never have a voice like his again- as a proud Newfoundlander he championed what he believed to be right for our country and was always a good and true friend to Alberta. Rest in peace, dearest Rex.” — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith

“Long before I played him on 22 Minutes, he worked with my dad at VOCM. There was no greater wordsmith in Newfoundland. And it’s a place where you know for wordplay. You might not always agree with what he had to say but oh, how he could say it.” — Actor Mark Critch

“Rex Murphy, born in Newfoundland before it even entered Confederation, was a strong advocate for western Canada. That’s because he was a fiercely proud Canadian who believed every part of Canada should be treated fairly because every part of Canada makes our nation stronger.” — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

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“I first met Rex Murphy when we were both interviewed on TV in 1978. He stole the show. We disagreed about many things, but I never lost my affection and admiration for him. He loved Newfoundland and Canada and was fearless.” — Canadian UN Ambassador Bob Rae

“B’nai Brith Canada is deeply saddened by the death of Rex Murphy, an outspoken supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. Murphy had long been one of the first journalists in Canada. He was a television commentator, radio host, author, podcaster and columnist. His opinion pieces in the National Post were consistently well read and often bred controversy. Recently, he wrote a brilliant piece in the Post about Israel and anti-Semitism. Atop the piece was this headline: ‘Hatred of Israel is the great moral disorder of our time.” — B’nai Brith Canada

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