One of Barry Humphries’ oldest friends has revealed that the comedy genius would have been dead within a year, while still in his thirties, if he hadn’t given up alcohol and drugs.
Ross Fitzgerald, emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, drank with Humphries in the 1960s and, like the creator of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, became a raging alcoholic.
Humphries, who died on Saturday aged 89 from complications of hip replacement surgery, stopped drinking in 1970 after being severely assaulted in a Melbourne pub.
Fitzgerald told broadcaster Chris Smith on TNT radio he was attending Monash University in Melbourne when he first met Humphries at the nearby Notting Hill Hotel.
The pair became friends, but the bottle nearly killed them both.
One of Barry Humphries’ oldest friends has revealed that the comedy genius would have been dead within a year, while still in his thirties, if he hadn’t given up alcohol. Ross Fitzgerald, drank with Humphries (above as Dame Edna Everage) in the 1960s and, like him, became a raging alcoholic
“We drank together and we sobered up together in Alcoholics Anonymous and we were both very, very sick,” Fitzgerald said.
“If Barry and I hadn’t stopped drinking and taking tablets in 1970, we wouldn’t have made it to 1971.”
Fitzgerald has also revealed that his boyfriend of over 60 years seemed to be flirting with a late-found faith in God when he called from his hospital bed in the days before he died.
Humphries spent most of the 1960s in London and by the end of that decade he was a self-described “dissolute, guilt-ridden, self-pitying drunk” hopelessly dependent on alcohol.
Fitzgerald, who included anecdotes about his times with Humphries in his book Fifty Years Sober: An Alcoholic’s Journey, said they had both lost control.
“He wasn’t as reckless as I am,” Fitzgerald told Smith. “For example, he didn’t try to kill anyone and he didn’t steal cars and drive off bridges like I did.
“But he sought danger and was badly beaten in a pub in Richmond, where he nearly died and was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital.”
Ross Fitzgerald told radio host Chris Smith that he and Humphries sobered together on Alcoholics Anonymous. “If Barry and I hadn’t stopped drinking and taking tablets in 1970, we wouldn’t have made it to 1971,” he said. Humphries is pictured performing in an undated photo
The two friends were at the end of the line when both were admitted to Delmont Private Hospital in late 1969.
Delmont’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. John Moon, was a strong supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the night before Humphries and Fitzgerald were fired, they were taken to an AA meeting at Malvern Town Hall.
After the meeting, Fitzgerald asked a “old-timer” named Antique Harry if he had any hope of staying sober for a long time and got a friendly, life-saving response.
“He said, ‘Son, if you stay close to this movement, you’ll be fine,’ Fitzgerald told Smith. “And Barry heard that and those words changed us both.”
“Barry and I have attended – and still do – regular AA meetings throughout our lives, not only in Australia but especially in England and America.”
In 1973, Humphries invited Fitzgerald to see what would be his first performance of the lecherous drunk Les Patterson at the Rooty Hill RSL Club in Sydney’s Western Suburbs.
“We sat down together and Barry said, ‘I’ll be right back’ and a few minutes later this confused guy came in in a crumpled suit,” Fitzgerald told Smith.
In 1973 Humphries invited friend Ross Fitzgerald to see what would be his first performance of the lecherous drunk Les Patterson at the Rooty Hill RSL Club in Sydney’s western suburbs. Humphries is depicted as Patterson for a television special in 1980
“He looked like he was drunk and said, ‘Hello, the name is Les Patterson’ and he kind of gave a meandering monologue of ‘Time waits for no one’ and it took me a minute or two to realize it was Barry .
“This was long before he made Sir Les into a vaudeville character as the Australian ambassador to ‘the yartz’ with a huge penis and drooling mouth.”
A year later, Humphries introduced Fitzgerald to his future wife, model and actor Lyndal Moor, at an AA meeting in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
At the time, Moor was in a relationship with Humphries’ manager Clyde Packer – son of media mogul Sir Frank and brother of Kerry.
Moor never drank alcohol again. She married Fitzgerald in 1975 and died three years ago.
When asked by Smith if Humphries was philosophical about death towards the end, Fitzgerald said his old friend called him shortly before he died.
“Remember he was on medication,” Fitzgerald told Smith. He said, “God doesn’t want us to die Rossy”.
“I said in disbelief, ‘Do you believe in God now, Barry?’ And he said, “I’m going that way, but I’m telling you something – he’s not interested in us when we’re dead.”‘
Humphries lived in London for most of the 1960s, and by the end of the decade he was, in his own words, a “debauched, guilt-ridden, self-pitying drunk” who was hopelessly dependent on alcohol. He is pictured at the Savoy Grill in London in January 1968