Geoffrey Rush Wins Defamation Case Over ‘Sensationalist’ Articles

April 11, 2019 Updated: April 11, 2019

Geoffrey Rush was defamed in a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism” accusing him of inappropriate behaviour, a Sydney judge has ruled.

The 67-year-old Oscar-winning actor sued the Daily Telegraph’s publisher and journalist Jonathon Moran over two stories and a poster published in late 2017.

In Sydney’s Federal Court on April 11, Justice Michael Wigney found Rush had been defamed and awarded him at least $850,000 in damages.

“Nationwide and Moran published defamatory imputations and … did not make out their defence of substantial truth,” the judge said.

The Telegraph publications related to an allegation Rush behaved inappropriately toward a co-star—later revealed to be Eryn Jean Norvill—during a Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear.

Justice Wigney on Thursday said he wasn’t persuaded Norvill’s evidence was “credible or reliable” while he accepted Rush’s testimony.

Rush and Norvill were both in court to hear the decision.

The judge ruled Rush was entitled to “aggravated damages” of $850,000. A further hearing will be held on May 10 to consider special damages for his economic loss.

That figure could run into many millions of dollars.

Justice Wigney said the conduct of the Telegraph and Moran in publishing the first defamatory article on November 30 in 2017 was “improper and unjustified.”

“Those articles were published in an extravagant, excessive and sensationalist manner,” he said.

“Nationwide and Moran were reckless as to the truth or falsity of the imputations they in fact conveyed.”

Justice Wigney said it was a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind—the very worst kind.”

It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the article—headlined “King Leer”—was “calculated to damage,” the judge said, adding the impact on Rush was “devastating.”

Norvill was a defence witness in last year’s trial, telling the court Rush deliberately stroked the side of her breast during a preview performance when her character was dead onstage.

“It couldn’t have been an accident because it was slow and pressured,” she said.

He also stroked Norvill’s lower back backstage, made groping gestures toward her during rehearsal and would sometimes growl and call her yummy, she alleged.

Rush said it was possible he used the word yummy—which had “a spirit to it”—but otherwise denied the allegations, saying that he thought he and Norvill had enjoyed a “very sparky, congenial rapport.”

He became emotional when he said that to perform the death scene, he imagined “it was my own real-life daughter and that she’d been hit by a bus on the street near where we live … and I knew she was gone.”

He said the months following the publication of the articles had been the worst of his life.

By Jodie Stephens