Actor Paul O’Grady, who achieved fame as drag queen Lily Savage before becoming a beloved comedian and host on British television, has died.
Artist Paul O’Grady, best known as drag queen Lily Savage before becoming a beloved comedian and host on British television, has died. He was 67 years old.
Britain’s Queen, who has worked with O’Grady to support animal charities, has led a tribute to an actor who emerged from the gay alternative comedy scene and became a national treasure.
O’Grady’s partner, Andre Portasio, said he died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday night.
“He will be missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals, and everyone who enjoyed his sense of humor, intelligence, and compassion,” Portasio said in a statement.
Born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, in 1955, O’Grady was working as a care worker for the local authority when he began performing as Savage, a stinging Liverpudlian drag queen.
Savage became a fixture as the host of a talent show and stand-up at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a prominent gay venue. O’Grady used his platform to speak out for gay rights at the height of the AIDS crisis, at a time when the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was passing anti-gay laws.
Lily Savage transitioned into television in the 1990s, including hosting the talk show, “The Lily Savage Show.”
Later, as Paul O’Grady, he hosted talk and game shows including ‘The Paul O’Grady Show’, ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Blankety Blank’ as well as a long-running program on BBC Radio.
An animal lover, he also presented For the Love of Dogs, which profiled the work of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an animal rescue charity. Camilla, the Queen’s consort, was a guest on the show last year.
The royal family’s official Twitter account posted a picture of O’Grady and Camilla with the message: “So sad to hear of the passing of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of @Battersea_, providing many laughs and many wavering memories.”
Veteran LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell said O’Grady “was not just a brilliant comedian and radio personality, but a much admired campaigner for LGBT equality and animal rights”.
“Paul was one of the nicest people you could ever meet,” said Tatchell. “All who touched his life will miss him dearly, as will those who enjoyed his intelligence and admired his compassion.”
O’Grady is survived by Portasio, whom he married in 2017, and a daughter from a previous relationship.
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