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An Appreciation: KCRW’s Matt Holzman and Me

You may not have known Matt personally, but if you ever listened to KCRW, you knew his voice.

Matt Holzman died yesterday at the age of 56, after battling cancer. 

You may not have known Matt personally, but if you ever listened to KCRW, you knew his voice. Whether it was his insightful show “The Business,” discussing all things Hollywood, or his film club “Matt’s Movies” or “that guy who gave away prizes” during KCRW’s fundraising drives, Matt was one of KCRW’s signature voices. He was a fantastic storyteller. And he was a mensch.  

Matt was also my friend. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Matt several years ago, having him attend one of my birthday parties, and going sailing with him. Boy, did Matt love to sail. In fact, Matt loved any and all adventures. His love of said adventure, some might say, bordered on recklessness. Matt lived in the fast lane. And I understand why.

That’s because Matt and I were also bonded over the fact that we both suffer from the same illness: Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) — a progressive, genetic illness that produces thousands of cysts on your kidneys, to the point where they eventually shut down. To date, there is no cure for PKD and all patients will ultimately require dialysis and hopefully a transplant in order to survive. Matt received his new kidney from a cadaver donor in 1996. 

As KCRW’s President Jennifer Ferro wrote in her tribute to him: “There were two eras of Matt: Dialysis Matt and donor-kidney Matt. The donor kidney gave Matt the vigor you always knew was in him. To see him not sick was truly joyful. He grabbed life and lived it — even traveling to Ghana and India soon after his transplant when many on immunosuppressant drugs wouldn’t dream of it.”

Matt’s rollicking story of that crazy day when he got the call that a donor kidney had come through for him is an epic piece and you should read it or listen to it here. 

Despite the fact that it had been almost two decades since his transplant, when I was back in the hospital with my umpteenth kidney infection (a particular joy that goes with this disease), Matt sent me the following email:

Subject: Hey lady

Heard you are laid up and you KNOW I feel your pain!  Let me know if there’s anything I can do or if you just want to talk. 

We had long chats about all kinds of things including my nephrologist, whom I adore and who has kept me alive and off dialysis so far, although a transplant will very much have to be part of my not-so-distant future. This is a disease that my father and his father had; and that both my siblings have (although they have received transplants now). So it was no surprise that Matt was deeply concerned about his own sister who had also inherited this disease. Which is why he sent me this email:

So I told my sister you had a doctor who was going to keep her off dialysis and she said she would pay you $1,000 for the name!

No matter what, Matt never lost his sense of humor. Or his humility, or his love of life and people. I believe that Matt’s joie de vivre shone through in his mellifluous voice on the radio. And I know he touched millions of people’s lives.

No matter what, Matt never lost his sense of humor. Or his humility, or his love of life and people.

I don’t know how I’m going to feel when KCRW’s next fundraising drive comes round and he isn’t there to demand that we all send in our money and send it in now

I once said to Matt, “I don’t understand. I donate every year and you never choose me to win a car, or a new Macbook or a trip to Belize.” And he said, “That’s because you don’t send the money directly to me.” 

Now, I’ll never have that opportunity. 

I will miss you terribly, Matt. It seems so cruel that you beat PKD, only to be taken down by cancer while you were still in your prime. If there’s anything I’ve learned from you, it’s that you chose to grab life with both hands and live out loud with passion and love and intensity. It was an honor to have known you. 

Kelly Hartog is the Journal’s managing editor.

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