Journal: News & Comment

Friday, January 25, 2002
# 12:11:00 PM:

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It made him, it killed him

Peter Gzowski's voice was always on my mom's radio in the kitchen. He seemed to be there throughout my childhood, though it was really only from junior high school on, when he hosted "Morningside," CBC radio's nationwide morning show, starting in 1982. (I had been too young to remember "This Country in the Morning," his similar program from the '70s.)

His voice was perfect for CBC radio -- not the deep, booming, relentlessly slick voice of mellow commercial FM, but not the attack-dog bark of AM talk-jockeys or morning-radio drive-time hosts either. It was warm, gravelly, and personable. Gzowski had earlier made his mark as an editor at newspapers and magazines, but his voice, approach, and on-air personality made him Canada's biggest radio star.

The voice was a consequence of a three-pack-a-day smoking habit -- 75 cigarettes daily, an average of four or five every waking hour. That gave him emphysema, which is what killed him yesterday at the relatively young age of 67. He wrote an essay about fighting his 50-year habit last year. But we have to wonder: if he hadn't been a smoker, would he have had that voice? Would he have become the icon he was? If not, and had he known it, which life would he have preferred -- a short one with greater fame, or a longer one with lesser?

Maybe he would have had the same career arc, for his intelligence, interviewing skills, and passion for the country had nothing to do with smoking. His voice might still have made excellent radio. I wish so -- maybe then he would still be broadcasting, maybe for another twenty years. But we won't know. Cigarettes killed Peter Gzowski. The price was too high.


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