Barry Humphries, the Australian entertainer whose gladiolus-wielding alter ego Dame Edna charmed and toasted celebrities, all with a Cheshire grin, outrageous spectacles, a “Hello, Possums!” salute and a fit of caustic humour, died Saturday. He turned 89.
Humphries died in a Sydney hospital from complications of hip surgery, his family announced.
“He was completely himself to the end and never lost his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity,” they said. “With over 70 years on stage, he was an entertainer at heart, touring until the last year of his life and planning more shows that sadly never will be.”
He portrayed Dame Edna Everage – whom he called a “gauchy, garrulous Melbourne housewife with a very shrill voice who was obsessed with interior decoration” – performing in cabaret, clubs, stage and screen for more than six decades as one of the world’s oldest continuously comic strips. creations.
“The fact that she’s still changing is encouraging to me,” he says said in 2015. “She lives in a box, you see, and every once in a while I open the box and she pops out differently, with new interests, with new enthusiasm.”
At her glorious peak, Edna hosted her own variety talk show on Britain’s ITV network. With a greeting of “Hello, Possums!” she would descend a lavish staircase – after a pause for applause, of course – and sit next to a nervous celebrity ready for class snobbishness.
The Dame Edna Experience ran from 1987-89 and won big names such as Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda, Liza Minnelli and Lauren Bacall. Alongside Edna on set was Madge Allsop (played by Emily Perry), Edna’s long-suffering bridesmaid who never spoke.
Humphries’ character has also starred in several TV specials, including Dame Edna’s Hollywood, Dame Edna’s work experience, Edna time and that of 2007 The Dame Edna Treatmentset in a spa frequented by guests such as Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, KD Lang and future British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
A more substantive supporting role for Edna previously took place in Aussie comedy The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), which Humphries co-wrote with future Breaker Morant And Ride Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford. Australian entertainer Barry Crocker played the title character, a bumbling Aussie traveling around England with a beer in hand and a constant eye for women.
McKenzie began life in a comic strip written by Humphries for the 1960s magazine of English satirist Peter Cook Private eye. The cartoons were collected in three publications, but were initially banned in Australia for indecency.
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie became the first Australian film to earn $1 million at the box office and spawned the sequel Barry McKenzie holds his own (1974). The film stands out for its surprise cameo in the final scene by then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, awarding Edna Everage the title Dame.
Edna also appeared on the big screen in the sex documentary The naked Bunyip (1970), at the end of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), during an Academy Award run in Crying III (1987) and in a swimming pool in Absolutely amazing: the movie (2016).
John Barry Humphries was born in Melbourne on February 17, 1934. He grew up in Camberwell in the city and attended the prestigious Camberwell Grammar and Melbourne Grammar schools, where he studied English and art.
He joined the Melbourne Theater Company in the early 1950s and his Edna character began to evolve while traveling to Australian rural towns in 1955.
“The local blue stocking, or the woman who read a few books, would stand up and thank us for bringing culture to our little town,” he said. recalled. “During these long journeys we improvised, people sang songs, recited poetry, and I sat in the back of the bus pretending to be the provincial art woman.”
He first played Edna at a Melbourne University Revue show on December 13, 1955, and later at the Philip Street Revue Theater in Sydney.
In 1956, when Melbourne was hosting the Summer Olympics, Humphries masterfully pitched Edna to the press as a potential hostess for the athletes, so qualified, she said, because her house had wall-to-wall burgundy carpeting.
Many assumed the Moonee Ponds lady was an exaggerated version of his mother, Louisa, but Humphries said most of the character came from a “composite of the women of the period and many women in Australia today”.
Despite suffering from stage fright, he brought Edna to Broadway in 1999, 2004 and 2010 – winning a Drama Desk Award in the process – and to the Fox show Ally McBeal.
Meanwhile, Humphries played two other recurring characters: the drunken, politically incorrect diplomat Sir Les Patterson and the ruminating retired soldier Sandy Stone.
Patterson was conceived one night during a visit by Humphries and Beresford to the Australian consulate in London. Beresford recalled that “the Consul got drinks out of the fridge, and I could see Barry looking at him with these burning eyes … he watched him like a hawk all evening.”
Humphries knew a thing or two about alcoholism, and it nearly cost him his death in the 1970s. He was eventually treated at a private hospital and attended AA meetings and said he never drank again.
However, Patterson was his most enjoyable character to live in, he said. “No story is too dirty, no gesture too lewd, no idea too racist that he can’t articulate it with his own special kind of joy,” he said.
While with the Philip Street Revue, he created Stone, an elderly gentleman full of respect and pathos. His inspiration came from a Melbourne neighbor named Mr. Whittle, with whom he often shared a train ride.
Small, he said in 2013 represented the generation of Humphries’s parents who “delivered monologues about his life, hissed thanks to ill-fitting dentures, which were so excruciatingly dull as to have a poetic quality that transcends boredom.”
In the 1960s, Humphries appeared with Spike Milligan on his Go show radio program and on stage Treasure Island And The dorm. Once Milligan went out during hiatus and never came back, he recalled, and working with the strip was “the strangest and most exciting experience of my career.”
Humphries also appeared on Broadway in Oliver! (as Fagin) and on the West End Maggie May and as other non-Edna characters in the 1994 Beethoven biopic Immortal beloved And Nicholas Nickleby (2002).
He narrated the Adam Elliott animation Mary and Max (2009) and voiced the bloated Great Goblin The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and the great white shark Bruce Finding Nemo (2003).
Humphries also released two autobiographies – the 1992 one More please and that of 2002 My Life as Me: A Memoir – and wrote fictional biographies for Dame Edna and Sandy Stone.
Survivors include his fourth wife, Lizzie; children Tessa, Emily, Oscar and Rupert; and 10 grandchildren.
Unfortunately, now Dame Edna is gone too, even though it often seemed that she was a separate person, not a character Humphries had come up with. “I talk like I’m in the wings and she’s on stage,” he once said, “and every now and then she says something extremely funny and then I’m standing there thinking, ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’ ‘ ”