- By Andre Rhoden-Paul
- BBC News
Presenter and comedian Paul O’Grady has died at the age of 67.
He died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening, his husband Andre Portasio said in a statement.
O’Grady rose to fame in the 1990s with his drag queen persona Lily Savage, going on to present game show Blankety Blank and other light entertainment programmes.
Later in his career, he went on to host a number of chat shows, and also brought his love of dogs to the screen.
“It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening,” Mr Portasio said.
“He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.
“I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.”
He 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”.
He was due to present on Boom Radio in less than two weeks time for Easter Sunday.
O’Grady’s long-time radio producer Malcolm Prince said he had visited the star at his home on Tuesday afternoon, describing him as “laughing, smiling, and full of life”.
Mr Prince posted on Twitter: “He was so proud of Annie, so happy to be back on Boom Radio, and he was looking forward to so many new projects.
“And now he’s gone. I can’t believe it. We have lost a unique talent – and I’ve lost a dear friend.”
O’Grady was described as a “really special man” by ITV’s Lorraine Kelly. “Such sad news. Paul O’Grady – funny, fearless, brave, kind and wise,” she tweeted. “Will be sorely missed.”
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”.
Danny Beard, winner of the fourth series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, told BBC Breakfast O’Grady was “the most important person in British culture for drag”.
Campaigner Peter Tatchell described the presenter as a “much admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights”.
One of O’Grady’s most recent TV appearances was last year with Camilla, 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, an organisation for which he was an ambassador.
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.
Later he hosted chat show The Lily Savage Show for the BBC 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.
Throughout 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.