Australian Celebrities

EXCLUSIVE: Jessica Napier leads tributes for McLeod’s Daughters star

"Dad was the opposite of Harry."
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In the last weeks of his life, McLeod’s Daughters favourite Marshall Napier was surrounded by a “love bubble” before he slipped peacefully away.

The veteran actor, who starred in the popular series alongside daughter Jessica, died of aggressive and inoperable brain cancer on August 14, aged 70. 

Watch Below: How McLeod’s Daughters paved the way in Australian TV for female leads

It was a brief and brutal fight, his glioblastoma having been diagnosed only 15 months beforehand.

“The silver lining is that he was so filled with love at the end,” recalls Jessica, speaking exclusively to New Idea in celebration of her father’s memory. 

“We felt that, and he felt loved like never before. We were his care team, sleeping vigil by his bed at the hospice, so it was a beautiful and profound time for all the family.”

Jessica and Marshall Napier
‘The silver lining is that he was so filled with love at the end.’ (Credit: Instagram)

Jessica announced her “one of a kind” father’s death in a moving Instagram post, which sparked an emotional response from fans and fellow performers, including McLeod’s stars Michala Banas, Rachael Carpani and Bridie Carter. 

Rebecca Gibney, Rodger Corser and Steve Bisley also shared heartfelt tributes to a gifted artist, cartoonist, playwright and “actors’ actor” who was greatly admired by his peers.

A commanding figure on stage and screen, New Zealand-born Marshall was most familiar for ongoing television roles on Water Rats, Police Rescue – where a very young Jess played his daughter – All Saints, and of course, McLeod’s Daughters.

As crusty agriculturalist Harry Ryan, Marshall became a regular on the Drovers Run set in rural South Australia, popular for his cool professionalism, creativity and wicked sense of humour. 

Marshall Napier
Tributes flow for the McLeod’s daughters star and extraordinary father, Marshall Napier. (Credit: TV WEEK)

“It was funny because in real life he was the opposite of Harry Ryan,” says Jessica, 43, who starred as strong-willed station hand Becky Howard. 

“Dad was a bohemian, definitely the artistic type with a beanie and goatee beard, while Harry was a rich farmer.

“Marshall could be gruff like Harry, although he certainly wasn’t towards the end, he was in a love bubble,” she laughs, affectionately. 

“But Harry might have got some of his gruffness from Marshall! 

“There are always elements of ourselves in our characters. Interestingly enough, Marshall’s father was a farmer who had a racing stud in New Zealand, so he probably drew on elements of that to play Harry.”

Marshall Napier
“Dad was the opposite of Harry.” (Credit: Instagram)

Fondly remembering those Drovers Run days, Jess adds, “It was wonderful when Dad came to film McLeod’s because I was young and homesick living in Adelaide. It meant I could touch base with him – I’m a real homebody and I like my people. Family is my world.”

Heartbreakingly, due to COVID, Marshall spent many of his final months isolated from Jessica. 

He was in Newcastle, close to son Reuben, while she lives in Sydney with husband David Adler, daughter Emily, 10, and 7-year-old son Oliver.

“Dad loved being a grandfather,” smiles Jessica. “He was in New Zealand doing a play when Emily was born, but insisted he had to fly back to Australia on a day trip to meet her. As you do! He actually had that written into his contract.”

But that was Marshall all over, according to his daughter.

Jessica and Marshall Napier
Jessica says working with her dad on McLeod’s Daughters was a gift. (Credit: Instagram)

“He was unique, always did things his way. As an actor, he didn’t have a nine-to-five job so he was around for us a lot when we were growing up.

“He loved living in our world, loved the imagination of children, days spent drawing and writing make-believe. He gave us that joy. He was so creative and intelligent, not cut from the same cloth as most people.

“He was charismatic – the kind of guy that if he sat down in the kitchen at a party, everyone would migrate there, drinking champagne and eating crackers. He had that cool. He was fun, the life of the party.”

For more, pick up a copy of New Idea. On sale now!

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