Entertainment Celebrity Farewell ‘Strop’: Comedian John Cornell dies

Farewell ‘Strop’: Comedian John Cornell dies

john cornell dies
Cornell (left) with Paul Hogan filming in 1990. Photo: IMDB
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Comedian, producer and actor John ‘Strop’ Cornell – a “classic Australian character” – has died, aged 80.

Cornell died at his Byron Bay home, surrounded by his family, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Delvene Delaney and his daughters, Melissa, Allira and Liana.

In a statement, his family paid tribute to the “true egalitarian”.

“A classic Australian character, John Cornell made the lives he touched much richer, not only through donations, but also through his generosity of spirit, humour, humility and honour,” they said, according to his former employer Nine.

“John sought equity and equality, and fought for a fair go.”

Cornell is best remembered for playing the simpleton Strop opposite his real-life mate Paul Hogan, but off-screen he was smart enough to be Hogan’s manager, help mastermind Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, and produce the Crocodile Dundee films.

Born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia on February 2, 1941, Cornell spent most of his childhood in Bunbury.

After leaving school he enrolled to study pharmacy but went on to become a cadet journalist on Perth’s Daily News.

He worked for the paper in London, before returning to Australia and becoming a producer for Nine Network’s A Current Affair.

During that time Cornell met his lifelong friend and collaborator Hogan.

“I saw talent in Hogan immediately,” Cornell recalled in 1986.

“I was struck by his originality … I happen to think he’s the most talented entertainer that this country’s had; he’s the sort of equivalent to an all-rounder in cricket.”

Cornell became Hogan’s manager. When Hogan was given his own show in 1973, Cornell played Strop, the dimwitted flatmate with the perennial surf lifesaving cap and jutting jaw.

Cornell also managed several cricketers – including bowler Dennis Lillee – who wanted to be highly paid professional sportsmen like tennis players and golfers.

That prompted Cornell to pitch the idea of a new cricket league, funded by commercial-TV broadcasts, to Nine boss Kerry Packer.

In 1977, Cornell’s JP Promotions and Nine signed 35 top cricketers to play in a series of six “super-Tests” between Australia and the Rest of the World.

Cornell said in May 1977: “The public will see the best cricket ever witnessed and the players themselves think the ideas will be a tremendous boost to the game.”

Cornell, who had been married twice before, wed The Paul Hogan’s Show‘s resident beauty, Delaney, on New Year’s Eve 1977.

However, Strop’s role was fading and in 1980 Cornell and Hogan announced an “amicable agreement” by which Cornell would leave The Paul Hogan Show, although the pair would continue to work closely off-screen.

Cornell and Delaney later moved to Byron Bay, on the NSW north coast, helping to establish it as a mecca for the rich and famous.

In 1984, Cornell helped negotiate a deal with the Australian Tourism Commission for Hogan to star in the hugely successful “shrimp on the barbie” ads to promote Australia in the US and elsewhere.

The ads helped build Hogan’s international profile. Then in 1986 came the blockbuster hit, Crocodile Dundee, directed by Peter Faiman. Cornell was the producer and one of the screenwriters.

The $8.8 million budget was large for an Australian film at the time, but several hundred mates of Cornell and Hogan – including Kerry Packer and cricketers Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh – put up the cash.

Cornell and Hogan were the biggest individual investors – although Cornell acknowledged “rule number one in movies is never to invest in your own movie”.

Before the film was released Cornell accurately predicted: “Crocodile Dundee will be a huge success and will outgross every other Australian movie ever made.”

In the month before its US release in October 1986, Hogan and Cornell did more than 300 promotional interviews in a month.

Crocodile Dundee became the second-highest-grossing release in the US that year – after Top Gun. Cornell, Hogan and Ken Shadie received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Part of Crocodile Dundee‘s success rested on its lack of sex and violence. Cornell said he’d wanted to produce a feel-good film “that would appeal to males and females from six to 65”.

Cornell was wealthy even before Crocodile Dundee, saying in 1986: “Being rich I’m my own boss. I can please myself. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I have freedom.”

Two successful sequels followed but they didn’t hit the heights of the original.

In 1990, Cornell was best man when Hogan married Linda Kozlowski, his Crocodile Dundee co-star, in Byron Bay.

The same year Cornell and Delaney built the Byron Bay Beach Hotel Resort, which they sold in 2007 for $65 million.

Cornell’s company bought the Hotel Brunswick, at nearby Brunswick Heads, in 1990. In 2013 his friend, TV executive David Gyngell, bought a half-share for $5.25 million.

The Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Crime Commission began investigating Hogan and Cornell for alleged tax evasion in 2004, chasing the pair for $150 million in alleged unpaid taxes dating from the 1980s.

The ACC dropped its investigation in 2010 and Cornell and Hogan settled their dispute with the ATO in 2012.

Cornell, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his 60s, began having a treatment known as deep-brain stimulation in 2009.

He claimed in 2010 that he was able to walk up to two kilometres and felt like “a magic wand had been waved over me”.

Cornell and Delaney had two daughters, Allira and Liana. Cornell also had a daughter, Melissa, from an earlier marriage.