Dan Lake: Farewell Michael Kooge, my friend

Kooge liked to talk as though his life was a movie.
Kooge liked to talk as though his life was a movie. Photo credit: Michael Kooge

Yesterday we learned the sad news that former The Edge host and Newshub radio newsreader Michael Kooge died after years of battling cancer.

Many will be familiar with Kooge from either his radio work or from his very active social media presence, where he documented his cancer fight right until the end.

My connection with Kooge began long before either of us got jobs in the mainstream media. We met while working at retail chain Sounds Music while both store managers - Kooge in Whangarei, me in Newmarket.

Somehow we managed to have pretty active social lives, despite being paid around $8 an hour.
Somehow we managed to have pretty active social lives, despite being paid around $8 an hour. Photo credit: Dan Lake

We spoke on the phone frequently - often about album releases, but more often about crazy customer encounters or weird celebrity CD purchases. I would always tell Michael that he had a voice for radio, which was not a bad prediction.

"Yeah, you thought I was Maori or Polynesian because of my voice," he joked when I saw him last weekend, for the last time.

These chats became the foundation of a more than decade-long friendship.

Once Michael moved to the 'big city' (Glenfield), he began a tumultuous journey of self-discovery.

Part of that discovery was figuring out his sexuality and despite he and I being best mates and the fact I was openly gay, it took a lot of time and strength for him to even open up to me about it.

He came from a very religious family and adored his parents. He would have done anything to make sure they were happy, even if that meant locking the closet door.

"In every facet of your life it's mind boggling how much of this facade you have to keep. I didn't like it, I just didn't really tell the truth, I just skirted around a lot of subjects," Kooge told me during an episode of The Outlook podcast.

Michael liked to talk about his life as though it were a movie, and said playing the straight guy was the "hardest role he's ever had to play".

He was inspired to 'come out' after his colleague at The Edge, Mike Puru, did so live on air.

Michael eventually pulled together the strength to unlock the closet and call his mother. The one thing that he thought could damage their bond was actually the very thing that made it unbreakable. 

"She knew, she totally knew," he said.

Coincidentally, or maybe due to our similar passions, we both ended up working at MediaWorks. 

There seems to be some odd correlation between music stores and the media. Another co-worker of ours was Heather du-Plessis Allan and there are many producers throughout MediaWorks who have also done their time in music retail.

Kooge began living the dream. He loved working with Mike, Jay-Jay and Dom on their high energy breakfast show,  and was particularly proud of being 'the voice' of The Edge.

Whenever I was in a car with him with the radio on and one of his station identity stings played, he'd always get a specific smile on his face. It was a smile that was a mix of cheeky and proud.

"Who is that guy? He sounds like a bit of a dick," I'd routinely joke. He'd instantly have something witty to respond with to put me back in my place.

Given Michael had outlived numerous predictions for his life expectancy, we friends of his knew that one day "the credits would roll" on the life of Kooge as he used to put it.

And this week they did. There's a few things about the end of this movie that make me happy.

It didn't end with a cliffhanger. There was no carnage to clean up or fires to put out. It was how he would have written it - peacefully spending time with his friends and family.

On Sunday I got to hold his hand, look him in the eye and tell him how much our friendship had meant to me. The fade to the end credits had begun.

When his mother called me on Thursday, she didn't need to say anything. We didn't really speak.

Michael Kooge was known to friends and colleagues as "the voice". Now that voice has fallen silent.

His family has set up a Givealittle page to help pay for his funeral.

Dan Lake is Newshub's Travel Editor and co-host of the LGBTIQ podcast, The Outlook.