Who had the harder task? Connie Johnson, who had to let go of the world and future at age 40, or Samuel Johnson, whose decades in the spotlight couldn’t prepare him for the blowtorch agony of bearing witness to his beloved sister’s death and the reality of plotting a new course without her?
Both played their heartbreaking roles with courage, honesty and an unlikely sense of celebration. Both showed stonking character and humour while facing their inevitable parting, with Connie using her last months to raise awareness – and millions of dollars – for breast cancer charity Love Your Sister and send social media messages to anyone else in pain.
Awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia the day before she slipped away in September, she admitted finding dying “terrifying” but saved her pity for sons Willoughby and Hamilton.
“Sometimes I see them grappling with what it means when Mum can’t get out of bed for a whole day,” she said. “I feel I’m letting them down, because I can’t be the Mum I want to be. I just don’t have the strength.”
She had plenty. So did Molly star and Victorian of the Year Samuel, 39, whose bittersweet year saw him win a Gold Logie for saying other people’s words, but also prove to be a master of writing his own.
Refusing to give into mawkishness or clichés, he penned Connie a searingly perfect message which went viral – “Shoulders back. Stand tall through that savage march, stand big and tall, dear sister, for you have lived a life to be proud of. You’ve loved well, and you’ve been loved well”.
In December he said her death has made him live in the present.
“It can defeat you or it can give you a real understanding that ‘now’ is awesome,” he told TV Week.
“It didn’t crush my spirit. Instead, it increased my zest for life.”
From A-list stars to politicians and athletes, we’ve named the 13 Australians who made headlines and sparked conversations – both heated and admiring – across the nation in 2017. Some covered themselves in glory. Some created controversy. Some made reputations, others lost them. From the cricket arena to the same sex marriage battlefield, regardless of whether they were beloved or booed, their personal and professional wins and downfalls had us talking over dinner tables and media channels.