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TV presenter and comedian Paul O’Grady dies aged 67

BayRadio | March 29, 2023

Renowned British entertainer Paul O’Grady, who rose to fame in the 1990s with his drag queen persona Lily Savage, has passed away at the age of 67.

His husband, Andre Portasio, released a statement on Tuesday evening confirming the news, saying that O’Grady died “unexpectedly but peacefully.”

Paul O’Grady and his partner, André Portasio

O’Grady’s career spanned over four decades, during which he hosted various television shows, including Blankety Blank and The Paul O’Grady Show, as well as a number of chat shows. He was also a passionate animal lover and brought his love of dogs to the screen with his work on the series For The Love of Dogs. He was an ambassador for the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, where he supported the welfare of animals.

The news of O’Grady’s death was met with an outpouring of grief and condolences from his loved ones, friends, and colleagues in the entertainment industry. Queen Consort Camilla, with whom he worked closely to support the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, expressed her deep sadness and praised his infectious humour, warm heart, and compassion.

O’Grady was due to present on Boom Radio in less than two weeks time for Easter Sunday. His long-time radio producer, Malcolm Prince, shared on Twitter that he had visited the star at his home on Tuesday afternoon, describing him as “laughing, smiling, and full of life.”

O’Grady had recently been on tour playing Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie. Writing on Instagram a few weeks ago, after returning from performing in Newcastle, O’Grady said he was “thoroughly enjoying” playing the role again after so long “especially with a truly amazing and lovely cast”.

Paul O’Grady as Miss Hannigan in Annie: The Musical

The broadcaster left his weekly BBC Radio 2 show in August 2022, confirming it was because he was unhappy about sharing his Sunday afternoon slot.

Speaking on her breakfast show on Wednesday, Zoe Ball said: “We’re all heavy of heart here this morning at the news of our dear friend Paul. I know he was so loved by the listeners and all of us here.”

O’Grady was described as a “really special man” by Lorraine Kelly. “Such sad news. Paul O’Grady – funny, fearless, brave, kind and wise, will be sorely missed.”

Amanda Holden said O’Grady was “strong, funny, opinionated, no-nonsense, brilliant”, while radio presenter Simon Mayo added he was “a lovely man, always funny and a radio natural”.

Singer and TV host Aled Jones described O’Grady as “a lovely lovely person”, while presenter Vernon Kay said he was “one of the nicest and kindest people I’ve ever met, always a joy to be around and obviously, so much fun”.

One of O’Grady’s most recent TV appearances was last year with Camilla, the Queen Consort, for a one-off episode of ITV’s For The Love of Dogs – a series he helped launch in 2012, following the staff at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Paul O’Grady and Queen Consort Camilla in an episode of For The Love Of Dogs

Following his death, the animal home remembered O’Grady as a “devoted animal lover” and a “champion for the underdog”.

O’Grady was born in Birkenhead, on the Wirral, Merseyside, in 1955, to a mother whose maiden name was Savage – which is believed to have inspired his famous drag act.

He began performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s. The drag queen later performed in a solo show that ran for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and made a name by speaking out about LGBT issues.

Paul O’Grady dressed in drag, goes by the name Lily Savage

Later he hosted chat show The Lily Savage Show for a short run in 1997, before turning his hand to hosting a revived version of gameshow Blankety Blank, which remained on air until 2002.

He later hosted teatime programme The Paul O’Grady Show on ITV from 2004 to 2005, before moving with it to Channel 4 from 2006 until 2009. It was later revived in 2013 on ITV and remained on air for two years.

During 2013, the chat show was fronted by guest hosts after he suffered a health scare. He had previously had heart attacks in 2002 and 2006, the latter requiring a stay in intensive care.

The broadcaster also took over the reins presenting Blind Date, during a 2017 reboot of the show.

During his career O’Grady won a TV Bafta, British Comedy Award and a National Television Award for The Paul O’Grady Show. In 2008, he was made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.

The TV star had a daughter with his friend Diane Jansen in 1974. He later married a Portuguese lesbian in 1977 in a marriage of convenience and only legally divorced her in 2005.

He married his husband at a ceremony in London in 2017. O’Grady, who lived in Aldington, near Ashford, was appointed one of Kent’s deputy lieutenants in November. The role is responsible for representing the King at events in the area.

Paul O’Grady and the King

Written by BayRadio

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