Freelance Alec Marr’s life was spent among stars whose names he plastered over the pages of the biggest newspapers and magazines in the world. But he died in the company of the stars he loved the best – on a balmy Riviera evening gazing up at midnight’s glittering canopy from the sea-view terrace where he had made his bed.
He was found by his brother Neil. He was 38.
Alec was cremated on 8 September in Monte Carlo. He leaves Italian wife, Nadia, and children Iain, 14, Sylvia, 13, and Neil, eight.
Alec was born in Wigan, Lancashire but moved to Germany when his late parents were relocated there. When Alec returned to England as a 14 year old, his poor English led to exam failure after failure and the future was uncertain when he left school with nothing to his name but a reputation for football goal-keeping and songwriting. Then he went to visit brother Neil, who was setting up a European freelance operation in Nice. At the end of that fortnight, he was hooked on journalism: the two-week holiday lasted 18 years.
He started his career by joining Neil as a junior at his Riviera Media Service, later to be joined by Phil Taylor and photographer Geoff Holmes.
Alec continued to work in Europe dealing with the biggest news stories on the continent.
Almost every newspaper and magazine buyer in Britain and America will have read his words every week – unknowingly, because Alec seldom asked for a byline. “I am not part of the story,” he used to insist.
Becoming a master of snappy, must-read, English, he was also fluent in German, Italian and French. His language skills, popularity, reputation, down to earth lifestyle and approach, and his simple honesty helped him to also become one of the biggest independent photographic syndicators in Europe with scores of Europe’s top press photographers on his books.
He was particularly well known in show business and royalty circles and for an unrelenting campaign against the Mafia and drugs, which sometimes saw him under the threat of death in Italy’s darker corners.
But his last job, with Neil, was sharing an evening with UK singer Gordon Haskell (How Wonderful You Are/Harry’s Bar) discussing the singer’s upcoming autobiography, which Neil is editing.
His ashes now rest in his beloved Santa Stefano. The small crematorium was packed with family, friends and colleagues.
He leaves a hole that can never be filled. We are just grateful that he died peacefully. He had spent his working life with stars but his last words were: “I want to sleep with some real stars tonight.”
TRIBUTES CAME IN FROM EUROPE AND THE USA
News of the World assistant editor, Phil Taylor said: “He was not only one of the greatest natural newsmen in the world, he was loved. He would sacrifice thousands in fees rather than do a story that might hurt someone. He always picked up the tab. I’ve never known such a generous man.”
David Rigsby (News of the World) said: “He was one of very few freelances whose calls I looked forward to.”
John Bell (London Bureau Chief, National Enquirer and Globe) said: “I don’t know where to start looking for a replacement … for such a journalist and such a friend.”
James Grylls (Daily Mail) said: “The wee feller was a grand journalist. But a grander friend.
I held him in my arms when he was a baby brother to Neil and saw a fine man develop over the following 38 years.”
Peter Marsh (Mirror picture desk) said: “I spoke to him all the time – sometimes he was so far ahead of the game, I could hardly believe that this world-beating operator was also my mate Neil’s little brother.
When Neil and I worked together a lifetime ago, I used to babysit the little bugger. He was fun then, too.”
Former RMS photographer Franck Boure recalled a huge story they’d covered that was going pear-shaped because the pictures were not working out well. The story – a should-be splash and spread for The News of the World the following day – was dead. Franck said: “He should have been furious with me. Instead, he just said: “f**k the pictures … f**k the story …
f**k the Screws … how’s the wife, Franck?” Brother Neil said: “He was admired, not only for his unique skill, close and reliable contacts and his enormous talent, but for his irrepressible bubbly nature.”