THERE'S only ever going to be one Chopper Read, an old friend of the notorious Melbourne crime figure turned literary legend said as news of his death spread yesterday.
Ending a battle with liver cancer, Read died from complications at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, aged 58.
He was surrounded by family, including wife Margaret.
It was an unremarkable death for a man once considered one of Melbourne's most dangerous.
But Read's life had changed dramatically since his standover days of prison and stabbings, which he once claimed was responsible for his contracting hepatitis C.
He'd become a true-crime novelist, a father, a husband, and had been immortalised in the 2000 film Chopper, portrayed by Eric Bana.
For his friends and family, Read's battle with his ailing health - he revealed the liver cancer in April 2012 - had been nothing short of courageous.
Only a fortnight ago, he took to the stage of the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne, making his final stage exit and thanking his wife for helping him turn his life around.
"He delighted the audience with his skills as a raconteur and story-teller," his manager, Andrew Parisi, said yesterday.
"This is how he would wish to be remembered, as someone who spun a great yarn and made many people laugh."
And that's how he would be remembered at his local, the Leinster Arms Hotel in Collingwood, where he was just another regular.
Wilhelmina McGee won't soon forget the first bloke to walk into the pub when she and her husband bought it in 2001.
Chopper would become a good mate and regular source of entertainment. He lived his life pretty hard, she said.
Even in the past four years when his drink of choice was a raspberry lemonade, Chopper could hold the room with his stories.
"The 12 years I've known Mark I've never seen a bad side, an angry side, I don't know what he did in his previous life, but he was just a normal family man," she said.
"He told so many stories over the years I don't even know where to start."
Read's family, his wife and two sons, asked for privacy as they grieved yesterday.
"For more than 15 years, Mark has lived a quiet life with Margaret in Collingwood," Mr Parisi said.
"It is as a husband, father and friend that Mark will be missed most deeply."
Read had spent much of his adult life in prison for committing multiple violent crimes, and gained infamy in his younger days for sometimes using a blowtorch or bolt cutters to remove the toes of his targets.
He also had a fellow Pentridge Prison inmate slice off both of his ears while in jail.
Read later used his career in crime as the basis for a series of bestselling true crime books.
"Look, honestly, I haven't killed that many people," Read said in an interview with The New York Times earlier this year.
"Probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it."
For his former publicist and friend Di Rolle, Read was simply a unique Australian character.
Beneath his incredible machismo was a very gentle, straight-shooting giant of an Australian man, she said.
There's only ever going to be one Chopper Read.
- NICK TOSCANO and RANIA SPOONER, of The Age