CANBERRA, Australia (AP): An eclectic array of celebrities including singer Elton John, golfing legend Greg Norman and champion surfer Kelly Slater paid tribute on Wednesday to their friend, former Australian cricketer Shane Warne, at a star-studded state memorial service.
More than 50,000 mourners chanted their hero’s nickname “Warnie” at the outset of the service at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as they used to do when he took to the pitch for a match.
It was his hometown pitch where he cemented his sporting legend in 2006 by becoming the first bowler in the world to take 700 test wickets.
Warne’s death at a Thai resort of a suspected heart attack on March 4 at the age of 52 made headlines around the world.
The pain was felt far beyond the cricket world. Tributes came from the fields of music, acting, business, golf, politics, surfing, comedy, poker and others.
Elton John dedicated a rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to Warne’s children — Brooke, Summer and Jackson — who were among the crowd that included Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
John and fellow British musicians Ed Sheeran, Robbie Williams and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin appeared on a large screen via video. So too did Australian singers (and sisters) Kylie and Dannii Minogue.
Martin played “Eulogy,” a piano piece that he composed for the occasion. In another video, Martin apologized for not attending the memorial in person.
“We’re on tour in Central America and there are a lot of background noises, but I feel like that might be OK with him,” Martin said in a jungle setting.
“I think chaos and Shane were good friends,” Martin added before performing “Yellow” with a guitar.
Sheeran described Warne as “such a great bloke.”
Australian-born former champion golfer Greg Norman recalled Warne’s passion, energy and enthusiasm for life.
“Rest in peace, Warnie. You are one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Norman said in a video.
American surfer Kelly Slater described Warne as an “Australian classic.”
Some knew Warne as one of the all-time great spin bowlers. Others knew him as the dapper one-time fiancé of glamorous British film star and model Elizabeth Hurley.
“It seems too cruel that all the people who loved him will never have another Lion hug,” Hurley posted on social media in a tribute to the former lover she called Lionheart after his death.
She did not take part in Wednesday’s service.
Warne once appeared in an episode of the Australian comedy TV series “Kath and Kim” as a Warne impersonator named Wayne.
“He turned up and he was so easy to work with, had so much fun,” actor Glenn Robbins, who played Kel Knight in the series, told the service.
Actors Hugh Jackman and Eric Bana also paid tribute to their friend. Bana described Warne as a “fun loving larrikin” — an Australian term for a mischievous troublemaker — whose feats had changed cricket.
Former English cricket team captain Nasser Hussain and former West Indies team captain Brian Lara also spoke at the service.
Warne’s love life and off-field indiscretions were often fodder for tabloid journalists.
But his determination to be his authentic, flawed and irreverent self endeared him to his friends and fans alike.
A statue of Warne outside the cricket ground became a focus of public grief. Tributes left at the statue included beer bottles and cigarette packets.
It was a nod to how Warne once described himself in words repeated at his service by his father, Keith Warne: “I smoked, I drank and I played a little cricket.”