By Anthony Stavrinos

Family
and close friends have gathered at the Bellevue Hill home of
Australia’s richest man Kerry Packer after the media mogul died
overnight, aged 68. The cause of the billionaire’s death is not yet
known, with an autopsy to be conducted, but his condition quickly
deteriorated after he became ill on Christmas Day, according to a
source close to the family.

The source said Packer’s son and
heir, James, cut short an overseas trip and returned to Sydney
yesterday, several hours before his father’s death. It’s not known
whether one of Mr Packer’s last wishes was for his own Nine Network to
break the news of his death – but it did, in the final minute of this
morning’s Today Show.

Packer’s wife, Ros Packer, had
personally overseen extensive renovations to the family’s peninsula
home in recent weeks and it’s understood that it is from here that the
family returned to their Bellevue Hill mansion when Mr Packer began to
show signs of deteriorating health.

Tributes to Kerry Packer and
his random acts of generosity have been pouring in, including one from
PM John Howard and his media rival (and friend) Rupert Murdoch.

“Kerry
was both a lifelong friend and a tough competitor. He was the most
successful businessman of our generation,” Murdoch said in a statement.
“As a broadcaster, he had an uncanny knack of knowing what people
across the country were thinking and this finely-tuned antennae made
him the best broadcaster the country has seen.”

Howard was also
glowing in his praise for Packer, describing him as “one of the
dominant figures, if not the dominant Australian figure of the media
scene in this country for more than a generation.”

“Of all the
impressions he left with me, none was greater, or more indelible than
his passionate commitment to the interests of Australia and the
interests of the Australian people,” Howard told journalists at a
Kirribilli doorstop today.

“In all of the many conversations I
had with him over the years, he was always concerned about what was
right for this country. And the last one-on-one personal discussion we
had at his home some two months ago, he was full of ideas for the
future of Australia and ways in which this could be made a better
country.”

The closest the PM got to revealing the other side of
Kerry Packer was in this exchange, which he cut short when a journalist
raised the issue of Packer’s dislike of paying tax:

JOURNALIST:
Mr Howard, some people who knew him well have been speaking on radio
this morning. Describing him variously as generous, loyal, charismatic,
and also that in his own way he could be a tyrant. Have you ever
experienced that last of those?

PRIME MINISTER: No. I’ve
certainly, look Kerry was a forceful bloke. I don’t think anybody would
suggest otherwise and he would not want anybody to have thought
otherwise. I found him a person who always spoke his mind, you always
knew exactly what he thought about everything, that is how I liked him.
That is what Australians liked about him. He certainly had that
capacity that came out wonderfully in that parliamentary appearance
where he spoke for millions in suggesting that the public wasn’t so
impressed about certain things happening at that time that they were
lining up to donate more tax.

JOURNALIST: He certainly had a fearsome reputation, was that reputation well deserved?

PRIME
MINISTER: Look, my experience with him was, is, was, as I described it.
I am not here to go into all of the minutiae, different things. He was
a very forthright person, he was highly intelligent, he had a great
sense of humour, he was a very loyal friend and he was a very generous
friend and many people who have worked for him will testify to that.

High-profile
broadcaster Alan Jones, former Nine sports presenter Mike Gibson and
criminal lawyer, Chris Murphy were among others who paid tribute
through talkback radio .

“Kerry had been weak for some time. He
died peacefully,” Jones told his own radio station 2GB, while on
holidays. “He died peacefully, he was with his family, he was at home.
I think he was very grateful for that.”

“Kerry Packer’s
influence on Australia has been immense and not just in a public way.
He has left an indelible mark in business, sport and community service.
He is someone who will truly never be forgotten,” PBL’s executive
director, Sam Chisholm, said in a statement.