HONOLULU -- Legendary radio personality Hal 'J. Akuhead Pupule' Lewis died Thursday morning at his Honolulu home. He was 66.
Lewis had been recovering from lung cancer surgery he underwent June 9, but his news producer at radio station KSSK, Bruce Jones, said the death was unexpected.
Jones said Lewis died in his sleep at his Waialae Iki home.
Faithful Morning Show listeners showered the station with a torrent of tearful on-air calls Thursday and substitute host Larry Price said the station would spend the day playing Lewis' favorite songs.
Honolulu's best known, most controversial and longest-lasting radio personality was born Herschel Laib Hohenstein, in Brooklyn. He changed his name to Harold Lewis Hohenstein, later shortened it legally to Hal Lewis, and finally discarded it for 'J. Akuhead Pupule,' or 'crazy fish head.'
The highest-paid radio personality in the world, Aku entertained an estimated 117,000 people on the Morning Show. He was the show's host for 18 years.
Aku was making $100,000 a year as early as 1955, judged to be agout six times what the highest-paid mainland disc jockey was drawing. In 1983, he was being paid $6,000 a week.
Station manager Earl McDaniel read listeners a letter Aku left them before he died. It said:
'Folks, the news is, I didn't make it. Last week I went to Queen's for a nuclear medicine radioactive scan which showed the damn cancer had spread to the left lung, and I'm in the group.
'Like I said, I didn't make it. Now hold on. It's a sad piece of news and I'm sorry to lay it on you this way, but for some reason, I feel up about it rather than down. After all, at age 66, I've had a damn good life.'
Aku's note thanked his listeners, saying the 'positive vibrations' of their messages had created 'the force of contentment, well being and peace that surrounds me now.' He said he was holding on to the thought that there might really be 'a big golf course in the sky.'
Colleague of many years Bob Sevey, news director at Honolulu's KGMB-TV, called Lewis 'the ultimate performer,' and 'a giant in our business.'
'I don't know of anyone in the broadcast industry, as long as I have been in it here and in other places, who was so completely able to communicate with his listeners. He could make you laugh, make you fighting mad, ignore you, make you cry.
'He really understood the medium and the audience. He was a constant pro,' he said. 'Whether you agreed with him or were afraid not to listen because you might miss something, you would have to admit he was a giant in our business.'