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Family

Robbie Magasiva opens up about the devastating loss of his beloved brother Pua

''I could foresee the fall. I'd suggested a counsellor, but he didn't want to hear it.''

The death of actor Pua Magasiva knocked New Zealanders for six. By the time of his tragic passing, aged 38, he'd touched the hearts of millions of Kiwis through popular roles on Shortland Street, Power Rangers and his Flava radio show – and the nation was united in shock and grief.
But nobody has felt Pua's loss more keenly than his family. His eldest brother Robbie Magasiva is a broken man.
While news cycles can quickly move on after a celebrity death, acclaimed actor Robbie, 47, is still reeling – trying and failing to come to terms with Pua's suspected suicide in Wellington on May 11.
The normally stoic mountain of a man we know so well from shows like Wentworth sits hunched and cries often as he remembers his charismatic, talented, big-hearted little bro – whom he fondly called "Poos".
"I've never known pain like it," the actor says of hearing about his brother's death.
Robbie says the Magasiva aiga (family) – dad Ropati, 70, mum Salafa, 68, brothers Steve, 40, Miki, 39, Pua's twin Tanu and their adopted sister Trina, 20 – are quite simply crushed.
"To be honest, life will never be the same for us," says Robbie, his big brown eyes welling up. "Everyone is coping differently, but we're all grieving.
"Pua's birthday is coming up in August. Tanu wants to take some of his ashes back to Samoa, where Mum and Dad live. That will be hard. Pua's daughter Jasmine's ninth birthday this month will be hard. Our first Christmas will be hard. These are all obstacles we will have to get through together."
Robbie admits he has "good days and bad days", and internally is going through the torturous "could I, should I, what if?" conversations loved ones left behind often contemplate. It's natural – but pointless, he knows.
Pua's not coming back, but Robbie often talks about his brother in the present tense and just last night dreamed he was still here.
Robbie's "charismatic, talented, big-hearted little bro", Pua.
"I had this f***ing weird dream. I was at my brother Miki's house and Pua walked through the door. I looked at him and said, "F***, you're alive!" I hugged and held him for ages and ages. I just wanted to cuddle him. I let go and it was definitely Pua and he looked at me and walked past – then Tanu said, 'That's not Pua, it's Steve.' I woke up and cried. Tanu said he's had the same dream."
All the Magasiva brothers are close, but Robbie and Pua had a special bond – both pursuing acting careers, eventually starring in Shortland Street and the hit film Sione's Wedding together – and that tie started way back when they were little boys in Samoa.
After firstborn Robbie, mum Salafa was keen to try for a girl, but along came Steve and Miki. "Then she gave it one more crack and kaboom – two more boys!" laughs Robbie.
The family lived in Upolo in the village of Tanumapua – which is how the twins got their names Tanu and Pua.
"A new hospital had just opened in 1980 and they had this competition that the first twins born there would win a prize," explains Robbie. "Our twins ended up winning!
Pua (left) with his twin Tanu.
"We lived in a simple shack and we won materials to build a house. So the pink house that still exists today is because of Tanu and Pua's contribution. Every time we go back there, the twins always remind us that 'This is our house – we built this house.'"
Any island kid will know that chores, and lots of them, are part of daily life – and twins meant double the workload caring for the two youngest. So as the boys grew, Robbie and Steve came up with a deal.
"We chose a twin each," recalls Robbie. "I picked Pua and Steve chose Tanu, and they were our responsibility. Anything that needed doing for Tanu – changing his nappy or tidying up after him – I wouldn't touch it. That was Steve's job. But likewise, Pua was my responsibility."
When the twins were two, their parents decided they wanted to leave the simple life in Samoa and move to New Zealand "for the same reason everyone comes over", says Robbie. "They wanted us kids to have a better education and life."
The Magasivas settled in Strathmore and later Lyall Bay, and the twins were Welly kids through and through. The Miramar Golf Course was their playground growing up, and Robbie remembers that young Pua was mischievous, funny and "always had that spark".

"He had a big imagination, and had these toy soldiers he played with for years, making up big battles with all the sound effects."
The eight-year age gap seemed big when they were kids – and Pua had a best friend for life in his twin Tanu – but Robbie still kept an eye out for his little brother.
When Robbie worked as a postie and Pua was a student at St Patrick's College Town, he'd get Pua to help out and "buy him a pie and a Coke for payment".
"And occasionally, I used to reward him, saying, 'If you pass this test, I'll buy you new sneakers,'" laughs Robbie.
In many ways, Robbie and Steve's personalities rubbed off on their younger brothers.
"Physically, the twins were so different," explains Robbie. "Tanu is solid and Pua was slender. Tanu is more reserved and has similar interests as Steve – hunting, fishing, diving. Whereas Pua was a show-off, charging in to any situation and ended up kind of following my journey as an actor."
Robbie, left, with mum Salafa, Pua and sister Trina.
Robbie is humble about his influence on his chosen twin, but Pua's on record saying it was his eldest brother – who had starred in shows like Skitz, Shark in the Park, The Strip and films Stickmen and Lord of the Rings – that he thanked for kick-starting his career and signing him to an agent when he was still at school.
Proud Pua once told Woman's Day, "I looked up to Robbie because he had gone so far. He always encouraged me and would call me up before my auditions to wish me luck. He's an idol that I look up to and it's nice that he just happens to be my brother too."
Pua's big break came at 16 when he was cast as the Red Ranger in Power Rangers: Ninja Storm, and soon after he was catapulted to national fame when he won the role of Vinnie Kruse on Shortland Street – a part he played for seven years in two stints. In between, he was cast in the hit film Sione's Wedding, in which Robbie and his folks starred too.
Robbie was actually on Shorty playing Dr Maxwell Avia when Pua first arrived. "People thought I had a big personality and was kind of funny, but then my brother came on the scene and he took it to a whole new hemisphere! He had so much charisma. He was so funny. Everyone loved that guy."
Robbie describes Pua as driven and is incredibly proud of the success he enjoyed – although he worried about how much he took on.
Pua and his twin brother Tanu.
As well as juggling Shorty and fatherhood, he hosted the Flava breakfast radio show with his mate Sela Alo, MC'ed events, had a YouTube channel and social media commitments – which meant he was on 24/7.
"Pua was red hot. I'm so proud of what he achieved – he took things much further than I ever did. But he was crazy busy and there was so much pressure, I worried there had to be consequences."
Recently there were some unexpected bumps in the road for Pua. His role on Shortland Street came to an end last July, and two months later, he lost his job on Flava. The loss of his two big jobs hit him hard and Robbie believes he "struggled with his demons" after his fall.
Pua told Woman's Day earlier this year that after he "stuffed up and lost my work", he was "scared" and often struggled to get out of bed in the mornings.
"When I was in Melbourne, I had reached out and said I was worried about him," Robbie says quietly. "I could foresee the fall. I'd suggested a counsellor, but he didn't want to hear it."
Robbie was stoked when Pua and his girl Jasmine joined the Magasiva clan at a bach in the Coromandel for a few days last Christmas holidays. He treasures the memory and says it was "wonderful seeing my brother happy and relaxed with the family".
Pua and his daughter Jasmine.
The last time Robbie saw Pua alive was in April when he popped around to Miki's to see him and Jasmine. He seemed "fine", although Robbie now wonders if there were signs he should have picked up that all wasn't well.
On the night of May 11, Robbie ignored his mobile when it rang at 1am. He could see it was his brother Tanu calling, but thought it was probably a pocket dial. He left the second call, but decided he'd pick up if it rang a third time – and it soon did.
"Tanu was crying on the phone and said Pua had passed away," says Robbie. "For me at the time, it just didn't sink in. I was half asleep, and thinking what the f***? Am I dreaming?
Tanu rang again and said he couldn't get hold of Miki, so I hopped in the car and drove around to his place and told him. We booked flights to go to Wellington the next morning. I left Miki's and got back to my house about 5am and that's when I lost it. It really hit. I've never known pain like it."
As the eldest, it fell on Robbie to call his parents with the devastating news.
"That wasn't a good phone call," he says quietly. "When Dad answered, he was all chipper, and then I had to tell him and he started wailing. I'd never heard that before. In the background, I could hear Mum yelling, 'What's wrong, what's wrong?' And he had to tell her …"
The Magasivas gathered in Wellington for a week before the funeral and had Pua's open casket at Steve's home. Friends and family visiting all week "took away some of the pain" for Robbie.
He will never forget the outpouring of love and support – particularly 40 St Pat's old boys turning up outside the house one night to sing Samoan hymns and do the haka in the pouring rain.
A full Catholic mass was held at St Mary of the Angels, and speakers included Pua's beloved daughter.
"Jasmine blew me away with how composed she was as she talked about how her daddy will forever be her guardian angel looking over her," Robbie recalls. "I'll never forget that."
There was a wake at the Marist St Pat's club rooms – the club the Magasiva brothers all played rugby for – with Pua's favourite R&B hits playing until midnight.
"Pua would have wanted a great send-off and that night was a celebration of the guy we all loved," tells Robbie.
"My brother will be remembered for his huge generosity – both financially with friends and family, but also with his time and energy. He was open to everyone and treated everybody equally.
"I love that Pua was never scared to show his feelings. He was always emotional. Most of the time when we had drinks he'd end up in tears and it became one of our running jokes."
After the funeral, Robbie fell hard emotionally – but his girlfriend Natalie Medlock is a huge support and he has good mates.
"I've got guys I train at the gym with, touch rugby buddies and then others I can talk to one-on-one – whether I'm angry, crying or just need someone to vent to."
Robbie's all too aware of New Zealand's appalling suicide rates – "the stats are horrible" – and says Pacific Island men aren't generally good at opening up and that needs to change.
"I guess if any good comes out of Pua's death, I urge you to surround yourselves with people you trust and check in on your mates.
"And we need to honour that – if you say you're going to do it, then do it. Please check in on your mates and have the courage to start those hard conversations if you're worried."
Watch: Celebrating the life of Pua Magasiva. Article continues below.
Robbie sees a counsellor and admits he's a work in progress. He'll soon be heading back to Melbourne to work on Wentworth, but is glad he's had the past two months at home in Wellington to be with loved ones at such a tough time.
"I'm very grateful for the Magasiva family I have – we are solid and we are there for each other. Our priority now is Jasmine. We all want to be there for Pua's beautiful girl. She was everything to him."
Talking publicly about Pua and celebrating his memory is part of Robbie's grieving process, but he admits, "I'm haunted by the knowledge we chose two babies – Steve chose Tanu and I chose Pua – and I have this constant thought that I didn't change his nappy. There's a part of me that will always believe I let him down.
"To be honest, I will never come to terms with losing Pua. I'll learn to live with it, but I'll never be the same. I just want to try and remember the way my brother lit up a room with his smile. He was amazing."
Three weeks ago, Robbie had a tribute to Pua tattooed on his shoulder. "I wanted a permanent reminder with me."
The hibiscus is powerful, bold and beautiful like his brother, and it's intertwined with the pua flower (a frangipani) and jasmine, representing his beloved niece. On his inner forearm he has inked "Miss You Poos".
Robbie's tattoo tribute to Pua.

Shocking New Zealand suicide stats

✦ NZ's annual suicide rate is at an all-time high, with the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world.
✦ With a staggering 668 deaths recorded in 2017/18, it's the fourth year in a row that the grim toll has climbed, and making the latest annual provisional suicide count the worst since records began.
✦ In the only published study into suicide among NZ's Pacific Island community, those between the ages of 12-18 were found to be three times more likely to attempt suicide than European youth.
✦ Young people had the highest rates of suicide across Pacific ethnic groups, followed by those in the 25-39 age bracket.
✦ A 2017 University of Auckland study also found suicide rates were much higher in the Samoan community than all other Pacific groups for people aged 25 and older.

For information & free resources

The Mental Health Foundation: mentalhealth.org.nz
Le Va: leva.co.nz
Te Rau Ora: terauora.com
Helplines:
In an emergency, or if you feel you or someone you know is at risk, dial 111.
Lifeline: lifeline.org.nz or phone 0800 543 354.
Depression Helpline: depression.org
phone 0800 111 757 or text 4202.
Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 anytime
Tautoko Suicide Crisis: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666

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