For the most part Sammy managed to live with her demons, and in fact used them as fodder in her off-the-cuff on-air routines, from talking about her hilarious trips to the “fat farm”, to her hobby of crafting items out of old cat hair (she once gave one of her on-air partners, Jason Bouman, a hat made out of the stuff) or delving into her most tantalisingly tragic dating stories.
Sadly we lost Sammy last week. She was just 55.
While the circumstances around her death are unclear, the speculation in the media last week has largely missed the point of Sammy’s story. She deserves better.
By the time I met Sammy, she was already one of Sydney and Australia’s most enduring radio personalities, having survived in the crazy broadcast game for decades, trading on her wit and intellect for survival.
She had enjoyed the fruits of her labour, earning huge salaries and working with some of the biggest names in the business, including Doug Mulray. She mingled with celebrities, lunched with Marcia Hines, and had drinks with Kyle Sandilands.
Everyone loved Sammy, who had cut her teeth in the industry during an era when FM radio and its stars were the ultimate cash cow of the Australian media.
While I had the privilege of calling Sammy my mate for nearly 20 years, I was only privy to a small portion of her extraordinary career.
But this is not a eulogy for Sammy; there are others far better equipped than I who can do that.
Instead this is a first-hand account of watching an immensely talented woman who did not fit the increasingly corporatised celebrity mould no matter how hard she tried. She was eventually chewed up and spat out of a media machine that no longer tolerates true individuality, let alone eccentricity, especially in women.
And yet these traits had once been seen as Sammy’s greatest strengths, especially in the Mulray days.
“They told me to have more ‘summer’ in my voice, I mean f**k! Summer!” I clearly remember her telling me after yet another meeting with station management during one of her last big Sydney radio gigs.
“They say I am too self-deprecating, to be more upbeat and positive … I can’t talk about hangovers or giving up the smokes, but that’s why people relate to me. I make fun of reality, of the real crap that people go through. I’m too f—ing real for them!”
While she played the hapless radio star on air, in reality Sammy’s life was consumed by her career. Up at 3am every morning to start her shift at 5am, most nights she’d be out meeting listeners and advertisers, hosting events well into the evening.
Sleep deprivation was her normality.
Her career was dominated by never-ending radio ratings, her mood fluctuating with each percentage point that went up, or down.
Then there were the endless focus groups and wave after wave of young radio executives coming in with bold new plans and strategies for Sammy. They did not see the person but rather the “product” who could bring them millions of dollars in advertising revenue.
Ironically she outlasted most of the young bucks who rode into the studio all guns blazing, until she herself was eventually dethroned when the station opted for a “new direction” and hired a pretty blonde television personality to replace her. That replacement only lasted 12 months compared to Sammy’s decades.
After a few years in the purgatory of regional radio, Sammy eventually packed up and headed back to her hometown of Brisbane to look after her ageing mum, Jan Power, and take over the family business running the local farmer’s market.
She got sober, lost weight and re-created herself in the mould she had so desperately tried to conform to for all those years, but her bid to relaunch a media career failed to gather momentum.
Last week Sammy’s death quickly became national news, and there would be a part of Sammy who would have relished being talked about on national breakfast television and radio.
Ironically, it was also that part of Sammy, that desperate need for some kind of public validation, which, in the end, was probably her greatest demon.
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.