Stressed Ryan 'took cocaine before death'

Irish broadcaster Gerry Ryan was under massive personal and financial pressure and had been taking cocaine before he collapsed and died at his home, an inquest heard today.

Irish broadcaster Gerry Ryan was under massive personal and financial pressure and had been taking cocaine before he collapsed and died at his home, an inquest heard today.

The "shock jock" was so stressed by difficulties, including at his work with State broadcaster RTÉ, that he was barely able to sleep in the fortnight before his death, the court was told.

Dublin City Coroner Brian Farrell heard traces of cocaine were found in Ryan's system after his death last April and that the drug was likely to have triggered cardiac arrhythmia, leading to heart failure.

Ryan, a father of five, was separated from his wife of 26 years, Morah, when he died at home in the fashionable Dublin 4 district of Leeson Street Upper, close to bars and restaurants where he was a regular.

At the time he was in a relationship with Melanie Verwoerd, head of Unicef in Ireland.

Today the two women faced each other as details emerged of his lifestyle and the pressure he was under.

Ms Verwoerd revealed her partner had been under an extraordinary amount of stress as he tried to agree a separation with his wife and over his job with RTE, while at the time same he battled huge financial difficulties due to the recession.

"This started to take some toll on him physically," Ms Verwoerd said.

She said in the last two weeks of his life he barely slept, waking up with heart palpitations.

"He would have to sit up in bed with breathlessness and felt very dizzy," she said.

Ms Verwoerd denied Ryan used cocaine and said he promised at the start of the relationship not to take drugs.

However pathologist Eamon Leen told the packed courtroom that toxicology tests showed traces of cocaine in Ryan's body.

"Cocaine consumption has caused a toxic reaction in this gentleman's heart," he said.

Dr Farrell recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

In her evidence, Ms Verwoerd said her 53-year-old partner was suffering from dizziness, palpitations and breathlessness, pressure and pains in his chest, stomach cramps and long bouts of vomiting.

Some nights he would turn grey when he received an aggressive text or phone call, she said.

"There were many mornings he found it extremely hard to get up and needed help (to get) into the shower," she continued.

She said many times Dublin-born Mr Ryan, who anchored his eponymous popular chat show on RTÉ's radio station 2FM for more than two decades, should not have gone to work, but added RTÉ had changed its sickness policy.

Ms Verwoerd revealed her partner of two years also put on a brave face in public.

"Most importantly you need to remember Gerry was a showman," she told the coroner.

"He never let it show. When he went out he kept the face on."

In the week of his death Mr Ryan almost passed out during a meeting with his financial adviser and bank manager, she said, and felt dizzy at several functions - creating a secret signal for her which meant he had to leave somewhere quickly and collapse in a taxi.

One night he had dinner with veteran RTÉ broadcaster Marian Finucane at the stylish Four Seasons Hotel, who Ryan had "confided in about stress, particularly about his work".

"He then gave me the sign and we had to leave abruptly," Ms Verwoerd added.

She admitted the next afternoon Mr Ryan was so unwell she took his mobile and called his GP, who prescribed the relaxant Xanax and sleeping tablets.

The last time she saw her partner alive was around 7.30am the next morning, Thursday April 29, before he went to do his morning show, which had more than 300,000 listeners.

They spoke several times during the day on the telephone and by text while he met long-standing friend David Kavanagh for drinks.

The pair later went for dinner with a group of friends, who all told the coroner Mr Ryan had been in good form all evening but left before 11pm to watch a TV interview he carried out with Heather Mills.

Around midnight Mr Ryan spoke to his producer, Alice O'Sullivan, and said he was too exhausted to do his show the following morning.

After 14 frantic missed calls, several text messages and failed attempts to get into Mr Ryan's flat, a panic-stricken Ms Verwoerd got a workman to use a hacksaw to break the security chain on his front door.

Shortly before 1pm she discovered her partner's partially-covered cold body on the floor next to his bed. Rigor mortis had set in.

Ms Verwoerd cried and Mrs Ryan, her son, Rex, and his uncle, Manno, bowed their heads as the pathologist gave video evidence via Skype from Canada.

Dr Lean said Ryan had a chronically damaged heart with the presence of myocarditis, which suggested previous use of cocaine, but said it could also be as a result of a previous viral myocarditis.

There was also a moderate amount of alcohol in his system, which, when mixed with cocaine and a damaged heart, formed a dangerous compound, he added.

Coroner Dr Farrell said that, while death could have occurred at any time due to heart damage, he had to record a verdict of death by misadventure as cocaine was a significant risk factor in the cause of death.

"Cocaine is known to be a cause of this arrhythmia," he added.

In a statement, Mrs Ryan and her late husband's brothers, Mano and Michael, said it was their wish that Ryan's memory would be left to their children, Lottie, Rex, Bonnie, Elliott and Babs, to whom he was a father in a million who lived for them.

"In these difficult times for so many families in our country, we want to take this opportunity to say to anyone under stress, or with pressure or worries of any kind, to reach out for personal support and professional help," it said.

"Gerard was a communicator and yet he too struggled.

"If today is to mean something, it is to offer encouragement. If it is to have a message, it is that there is always someone to share your problem with, someone to offer professional advice and someone to shine light into your life when you need it most. There is always someone to ask.

"That is the simple message Gerard would have dearly wished from today."

In a statement, RTÉ said: "RTÉ again wishes to acknowledge its sadness at the sudden loss of our colleague Gerry Ryan earlier this year.

"RTÉ extends once again its sincere sympathies to Gerry's wife, Morah, to his children and family, former colleagues, close friends and partner Melanie Verwoerd."

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