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Richard Holden achieved political notoriety in Quebec as a colourful and mischievous rogue who never shied away from a good fight.

Whether it was taking on sensibilities in Westmount, the anglo preserve he represented in the Quebec legislature, or crossing swords with Mordecai Richler, the late author and friend, Mr. Holden tended to approach challenges with glee.

But at the age of 74, Mr. Holden had apparently met an adversary that got the better of him. Last Sunday, suffering from chronic back pain, he took his own life.

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His son, Arthur Holden, said he received a visit from Montreal police on Sunday afternoon. His father had fallen from his eighth-floor balcony in an apartment block near Montreal's Atwater Market. Police inspected the apartment and concluded the death was suicide.

Mr. Holden had left a note to his family.

"The pain had gotten to him. His morale had sort of collapsed. It just wore down his desire to live," Arthur, a Montreal lawyer turned actor, said yesterday.

"He was a forceful guy," he said. "But this was different. Getting up in the morning was not nice. He would say often, 'I hate this.' "

Mr. Holden was a lawyer with close ties to the federal Progressive Conservatives; he was a long-time friend of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose wedding he attended. He was elected to the Quebec National Assembly in 1989 in an anglophone protest vote as one of four Montreal-area candidates for the Equality Party.

During his mandate as representative for the upper-crust, federalist enclave of Westmount, he became known for his indifference to convention and his tendency to chafe at party discipline. But Mr. Holden carried his penchant for non-conformism to new lengths when he decided to switch to the separatist Parti Québécois in 1992 and promote sovereignty.

His constituents in Westmount were not amused.

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Defeated in 1994 in the riding of Verdun, he was rewarded by former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau with a post on the provincial rental board.

Mr. Holden retired in 1999 and, three years ago, his health took a turn for the worse.

He was in hospital for almost two weeks and underwent several painful spinal taps. Doctors suspected he was suffering from spinal meningitis, but were never able to make a conclusive diagnosis.

He tried to alleviate his pain, without success. "Nothing worked," his son said. "Even the more powerful stuff just didn't help."

Mr. Holden put on weight and got around uneasily on a four-pronged cane. He stayed in touch with family and friends, but didn't get out as he used to.

Instead of his old haunts on downtown Bishop Street, where he once met with drinking buddies like Mr. Richler and the late city councillor Nick Auf der Maur, Mr. Holden would head to the Green Spot, a 24-hour greasy spoon in blue-collar St. Henri, near his home.

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He remained curious, devouring books and watching politics on the parliamentary TV channel.

His friend Kevin Drummond brought him stacks of books, from detective novels to political biographies, and Mr. Holden had recently asked for Peter C. Newman's much-discussed work on his old friend, Mr. Mulroney.

His former wife, Hélène Holden, recently went to see Mr. Holden, who lived alone. She said she regrets not picking up signs that he was suffering.

"He was in great pain, but was always making light of it," she said. "He didn't [end his life]for some stupid reason. He was in excruciating, constant pain. But he belittled his pain to everybody.

"I feel impoverished," she said. "He was a rogue. He was a little bit impossible. But he had such a heart."

Former colleagues yesterday remembered a man of wit and intelligence who marched to his own beat.

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"He was such an independent-minded gadfly, it was very hard to rein him in and keep him within the construct of a political structure," said Robert Libman, the founding leader of the Equality Party.

"He always said what he wanted and did what he wanted, and couldn't give a damn about what anyone else said.

"But politics can be very dry," Mr. Libman said. "It's good to have a character once in a while who makes things interesting."

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