Barry Humphries has died aged 89 after being hospitalised earlier this week due to complications from hip surgery.
The comedian passed away at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital surrounded by his immediate family, including his wife of 30 years Lizzie Spender.
For weeks the comic had brushed aside concerns about the seriousness of his condition.
Humphries tripped on a rug while reaching for a book in February and underwent surgery at St Vincent’s where he was readmitted this week with family including Spender by his side.
In late March, Humphries told Nine Entertainment’s Andrew Hornery he expected to be back in good shape within weeks, but he sadly never recovered.
’He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit,’ his family said in a statement.
Barry Humphries, who has died in a Sydney hospital after suffering complications from hip surgery, has been entertaining Australians for seven decades and has performed on the international stage since the 1960s. He created Edna Everage (above) in 1955
The statement continued: ‘With over 70 years on the stage, he was an entertainer to his core, touring up until the last year of his life and planning more shows that will sadly never be.
’His audiences were precious to him, and he never took them for granted. Although he may be best remembered for his work in theatre, he was a painter, author, poet, and a collector and lover of art in all its forms.
‘He was also a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and a friend and confidant to many. His passing leaves a void in so many lives.
‘The characters he created, which brought laughter to millions, will live on.’
Dame Edna Everage remains Humphries’ most identifiable invention but for many fans the character who began life as a Melbourne housewife in the 1950s was not even his greatest work.
While Edna’s lilac permed hair, outlandish cat-eye glasses and garish gowns became internationally recognisable over the decades, Humphries had much more than one act in his repertoire.
For some, the uncouth, alcoholic ‘cultural attache’ Sir Les Patterson with his mottled face, food-spattered wardrobe and stained tombstone teeth was even more memorable.
For others, his most endearing alter-ego was the grandfatherly returned serviceman Sandy Stone clad in his dressing gown and reducing audiences to tears with his gentle monologues.
But Humphries was even more than the sum of those brilliant parts. He was a successful musical theatre actor, talented landscape painter, film producer, author and scriptwriter.
While he did not welcome the title, the sometime social commentator and noted raconteur was a public intellectual. Away from the spotlight, he was a voracious reader and rare book collector, husband to fourth wife Lizzie Spender and father of four children.
Humphries recently thanked a gossip columnist for not calling him ‘an icon’ but his achievements make that impossible. He was a fixture of the local entertainment scene for seven decades and became a genuine international star.
Humphries recently thanked a gossip columnist for not calling him ‘an icon’ but his achievements make that difficult. He was a fixture of the local entertainment scene for seven decades and became a genuine international star
Humphries befriended many of the best comedians, artists, musicians and writers of his generation and charmed most of the British Royal Family from the Queen Mother to King Charles III and Princess Diana.
His long life was not all razzle-dazzle and laughs. As a young man Humphries was a raging alcoholic but gave up the drink after an epic binge in the early 1970s when he was bashed and found unconscious in a gutter.
Biographer Anne Pender wrote in 2010 that Humphries was both ‘the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin’ and ‘the most significant theatrical figure of our time’.
As Dame Edna he was one of British talk show host Michael Parkinson’s most popular regular guests and the gladioli-clutching matron even featured on the US comedy drama Ally McBeal.
One of the old friends Humphries caught up with recently after returning to Sydney in December was the acclaimed artist John Olsen, who died on April 11 aged 95.
Humphries’ most famous creation was Dame Edna Everage who began life as Melbourne housewife Mrs Edna Everage in a 1955 skit. The self-proclaimed ‘gigastar’ is pictured meeting the future Kings Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2010
John Barry Humphries, AO, CBE, was born in the Melbourne suburb Kew in 1934, to construction manager Eric Humphries and his wife Louisa. The family was well off and Barry was raised in Camberwell, one of the city’s new garden suburbs.
Young Barry, nicknamed ‘Sunny Sam’ by his parents, was indulged with whatever material things he wanted but spent much of his time alone playing dress-ups in the backyard.
Humphries once said he was spoiled to have a whole box of clothes – ‘Red Indian, sailor suit, Chinese costume’ which he would don to ‘disguise myself as different characters.’
‘I also found that entertaining people gave me a great feeling of release, making people laugh was a very good way of befriending them,’ he said. ‘People couldn’t hit you if they were laughing.’
In his teens Humphries began rebelling against the restrictions of 1940s suburban life in Melbourne and became increasingly artistic, to his parents’ annoyance.
The first substantial character he invented was the dandy Dr Aaron Azimuth, donning a black cloak, black homburg hat and applying mascara.
While Dame Edna Everage is Humphries best-known character some fans preferred Sir Les Patterson, the uncouth slob and lecherous drunk. Humphries struggled with the bottle but gave up alcohol in the early 1970s after he was bashed during a particularly bad binge
At Melbourne Grammar School Humphries shunned sport and excelled in English and art. He spent two years studying law at the University of Melbourne but did not graduate. Instead, he became an exponent of the Dada absurdist art movement.
An exhibit he called ‘Pus in Boots’ consisted of filling a pair of Wellington boots with custard; a pretend pesticide Humphries dubbed ‘Platytox’ was promoted as being effective in targeting the platypus.
In one public prank, Humphries would dress as a Frenchman and board a tram after an accomplice pretending to be a blind man got on. The showman would push past his collaborator, kicking him in the shins and yelling, ‘Get out of my way, you disgusting blind person’.
Humphries’ most famous creation first emerged as plain Mrs Edna Everage in a sketch performed at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre in December 1955.
His intention was to lampoon the staid lives and standards of his parents’ generation; Edna could be acid-tongued and condescending but always remained likeable.
Over coming years she would progress from Moonee Ponds mother to ‘Housewife and Superstar’, ‘Megastar’ and ‘Gigastar’, making her ‘Hello Possums!’ greeting a trademark.
Humphries announced a farewell tour in 2012 but returned to the stage in 2019 with Dame Edna: My Gorgeous Life. Last year he performed in London with Man Behind The Mask. Humphries, pictured with third wife Diane Millstead in 1979, planned to tour later this year
Humphries made his London stage debut in The Demon Barber in 1959 and went on to appear in several productions of Oliver!. He lived and worked in London throughout the 1960s.
Humphries returned to Australia in the 1970s and with producer Phillip Adams and director Bruce Beresford he created The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, which became the country’s most successful locally-made film.
His one-man stage shows, usually built around Edna, captured further attention with tours of England, first in 1976, and eventually the United States in 1998.
Humphries’ American breakthrough led to a writing a satirical column for Vanity Fair magazine and a television role as eccentric lawyer Claire Otoms opposite Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal.
Humphries came up with Edna Everage to lampoon the staid lives and standards of his parents’ generation. She could be acid-tongued and condescending. Humphries is pictured with the late Princess Diana at a royal charity gala performance of Back With A Vengeance in 1987
In 2007, Melbourne renamed Brown Alley in the central business district Dame Edna Place and the same year Humphries was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to entertainment.
Humphries appeared in the Beethoven film biography Immortal Beloved, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as well as voicing Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo.
He wrote books including Barry Humphries’ Treasury of Australian Kitsch, the novel Women in the Background and My Life, an autobiography.
As Edna he penned Dame Edna’s Coffee Table Book: A Guide to Gracious Living and the Finer Things in Life by One of the First Ladies of World Theatre.
Humphries announced a farewell tour in 2012 but returned to the stage in 2019 with Dame Edna: My Gorgeous Life. Last year he performed in London with Man Behind The Mask.
Humphries announced a farewell tour in 2012 but returned to the stage in 2019 with Dame Edna: My Gorgeous Life. Last year he performed in London with Man Behind The Mask. He is pictured with fourth wife Lizzie Spender in London in 2016
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