- Written by Paul Glenn, Phil Mercer, and Antoinette Radford
- BBC News, London and Sydney
Australian entertainer Barry Humphreys, best known for his comic character Dame Edna Everage, has died at the age of 89.
The star was in hospital in Sydney after suffering complications following hip surgery in March. It fell in February.
Humphreys’ most famous creation became a huge hit in the UK in the 1970s, and he got her own TV chat show, Dame Edna Everage Experience, in the late 1980s.
Among his other characters is lecherous drunkard Sir Les Patterson.
In a statement, his family remembered him as being “exactly himself to the end, never losing his brilliant mind, unique intelligence, and generosity of spirit.”
They said Humphreys’ fans were “precious to him”, and said his characters, “which have brought laughter to millions, will live on”.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute shortly after news of Humphreys’ death broke.
“He was witty and sarcastic and a writer and unique, and he was gifted and talented at the same time.” Mr. Albanese said.
Melbourne-born Humphreys moved to London in 1959, appearing in West End shows such as Maggie May and Oliver!
Inspired by the avant-garde, absurd art movement Dada, he became a prominent figure on the British comedy scene alongside contemporaries such as Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan.
Comedian Rory Bremner described Humphreys as “lightning fast, devastating, mischievous…and brutally funny”. in a tweet.
With his death, he said, “we lose all the great times.”
Welsh comedian and actor Rob Brydon also described Humphreys as “a true great who inspired me immeasurably” and said it was “a pleasure to call him my friend”.
Australian actor Jason Donovan tweeted a picture of himself with Lady Edna and said Humphries is “just an entertainment genius”.
In 1955, Humphreys introduced Mrs. Norman Everage, a housewife from Moonee Ponds, a suburb of Melbourne, in a collegiate production.
This was the first iteration of the irrepressible character that would define his career.
Humphreys said his work was only supposed to last one week.
Instead, she blossomed into Dame Edna, his comically flashy, sharp-tongued alter ego that has left audiences in stitches in Australia and abroad for decades. He said the character was based on his mother.
She became more outrageous as the years went by, and was known for her violet-stained hair, sparkly glasses and catchphrase: “Hi opossum!”
Humphreys even wrote his autobiography, My Wonderful Life, as the character.
Among his other famous characters on stage and screen, the most is Sandy Stone’s grandfather.
He said of Stone in 2016 that he might “finally feel like I’m turning into him”.
Humphreys has also presented six series for BBC Radio 2, the latest of which is a three part series celebrating 100 years of the BBC.
His series ‘Barry Humphries Forgotten Musical Masterpieces’ has been hugely popular with audiences and will be broadcast on BBC Sounds today as a tribute to the comedian, said Laura Bosson, the Radio 2 executive in charge.
The comedian, author, director, and screenwriter, who is also an avid landscape painter, announced a farewell tour of his satirical one-man show in 2012. But he returned last year with a series of shows that look back at his career.
His other credits included voicing Bruce the Shark in the 2003 Pixar animated film Finding Nemo, as well as appearances in the 1967 comedies Bedazzled, Spice World, The Hobbit, and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.
Humphreys was awarded the Order of Australia, one of the country’s highest civilian honours, in 1982.
Later in his career, he was criticized for referring to gender confirmation surgery as “self-mutilation” and calling transgender identity “fashion”.
But his fans in Australia are mourning the loss of a comedy legend.
He was married four times and left behind his wife, Lizzie Spender, and four children.
What are your memories of Barry? Have you met him before? Share your memories by email [email protected].
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