Queensland sport icon Billy J Smith. Picture: Peter Bull
Queensland sport icon Billy J Smith. Picture: Peter Bull

Legendary broadcaster Billy J Smith dead

ONE of the most iconic voices in Queensland media for over 50 years fell silent today when Billy J. Smith died in hospital aged 73.

Billy J, who called everything from State of Origin to the game show It's A Knockout and was Brisbane's answer to the acid-tongued American Don Rickles as he roasted anyone unlucky enough to win a raffle or wear a loud tie at one of the many functions he hosted, suffered head injuries after a fall on Caxton St after a day out with friends on Tuesday.

 

Fiona MacDonald and Billy J. Smith from the 1980s TV game show It's a Knockout.
Fiona MacDonald and Billy J. Smith from the 1980s TV game show It's a Knockout.

He was taken to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital by ambulance but never regained consciousness. His family made the decision to turn off his life-support at around 1pm.

Billy's close friend and work colleague for many years Pat Welsh paid tribute to a man he described as a "great mentor and drinking mate."

"Billy had a triple bypass two Christmases ago and we thought we'd lost him then so we've had him as a bonus since then," he said.

 

Marion Swann and Radio Star Billy J. Smith announced their engagement in October 1969. Picture: Bob Nicol
Marion Swann and Radio Star Billy J. Smith announced their engagement in October 1969. Picture: Bob Nicol

 

"He came to Channel 7 to host Sportscene in 1973 and when I came along a few years later he was a huge help to me. He was my mentor and he became one of my closest mates. The only consolation is that he went peacefully."

On both television and radio Billy J was for many years one of the best known media personalities in Queensland, calling rugby league and hosting a variety of programs including the first local version of what became The Footy Show.

 

Billy J Smith and co-host Fiona McDonald in 1986 on the set of It’s A Knockout, which was screened nationally.
Billy J Smith and co-host Fiona McDonald in 1986 on the set of It’s A Knockout, which was screened nationally.

 

Perhaps the most unusual chapter in a colourful career was the two years he co-hosted the national game show It's a Knockout with Fiona MacDonald between 1985 and 1987. He even took part in the international version of the show which was filmed at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Billy J's last permanent gig was as host of the nightly Sports Tonight program on radio 4BC 10 years ago but he remained one of Brisbane's most in-demand lunch and function hosts.

 

Back row: Gary Belcher, Tony Durkin, Donna Lynch, Kevin Walters Front row: Billy J. Smith, Laurel Edwards, Michael O’Connor
Back row: Gary Belcher, Tony Durkin, Donna Lynch, Kevin Walters Front row: Billy J. Smith, Laurel Edwards, Michael O’Connor

 

His trademark style of teasing his audience wasn't for everyone - it was not unusual for raffle winners to forfeit their prize rather than go on stage and risk Billy J critiquing their hair or clothing style - but for those out of the firing line he could be hilarious.

Billy J. Smith served as MC and racecaller at the Gambaro’s 16th Annual Mud Crab Cup. Picture: Jordan Madeley
Billy J. Smith served as MC and racecaller at the Gambaro’s 16th Annual Mud Crab Cup. Picture: Jordan Madeley

 

He was still hard at it last Sunday as compere for Gambaro's Mud Crab Cup, the charity event that stops Caxton St and gave Billy J an annual stage on which to fire-off his trademark quips and insults.

"He was one of kind," said Welsh, who was at his bedside along with family members until 4.30am Wednesday. "This town is going to miss him."

 

 

Billy J Smith quizzes former Test fast bowler Jeff Thomson at sportsman's lunch.
Billy J Smith quizzes former Test fast bowler Jeff Thomson at sportsman's lunch.

 

 

Billy J Smith with restaurateur Frank Gambaro at the Gambaro Mud Crab Cup Lunch in 2016. Picture: Annette Dew
Billy J Smith with restaurateur Frank Gambaro at the Gambaro Mud Crab Cup Lunch in 2016. Picture: Annette Dew


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