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Barry Humphries Creator of Dame Edna Dies at Age 89

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Barry Humphries

Barry Humphries the Australian comedian, actor, and writer who is best known for creating and portraying the character of Dame Edna died. He was 89. Humphries died at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney on Saturday.

“He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit, and generosity of spirit,” his family stated, according to Australian media.

“He valued his audiences and never took them for granted.” Although he is best known for his work in theater, he was also a painter, author, poet, collector, and admirer of art in all its manifestations.”

In a tweet, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised Humphries, calling him a “great wit, satirist, writer, and an absolute one-of-a-kind.”

Humphries rose to prominence thanks to his portrayal as Dame Edna. Edna, with her coiffed lilac hair, enormous diamante glasses, and outrageous costume, would cheerfully greet audiences with her famous “Hello Possums!”

dame edna

Dame Edna made everyone laugh

Edna would cheerfully skewer celebrities and audience members alike, describing her presentations as a “monologue interrupted by strangers” and herself as fortunate with “the ability to laugh at the misfortune of others.”

“Tim, I could talk to you and about you and behind your back for ages,” the character once claimed on one of her talk shows as she was closing up a conversation with actor and comedian Tim Allen.

Edna’s life, as she related it, would frequently have celebs in fits of laughter. She taught Mel Gibson theater, Julio Iglesias’ father was her travelling gynaecologist, and she spent the coronavirus pandemic in Texas with her new lover, Meghan Markle‘s father.

John Barry Humphries was born and raised in Melbourne, the son of a well-to-do builder who convinced his parents to buy him a collection of theatrical clothes to play dress up in.

He was sent to a traditional secondary school and described by a buddy as a “spectacular misfit” who would skip school football games to knit.

The character that would characterize his career occurred early in his career: at 21, he was a member of a travelling repertory group when he created a snobby, inadvertently unpleasant housewife. In 1955, he made his stage debut as “Mrs Norm Everage” from Moonee Ponds, later admitting that she was based on his mother.

Other Australian caricatures he created were the disgusting intoxicated ambassador Les Patterson and the more subtle Sandy Stone, a decrepit rambling senior.

david humphries dame edna

Humphries was also an actor, painter, author, and Dadaist prankster

In one such hoax, he would sneak a can of Heinz Russian Salad onto a plane, dump it into a passenger sick bag, pretend to vomit into the bag mid-flight, and then consume the contents in front of bemused passengers and crew.

Humphries arrived to Britain in 1959, part of a wave of artistic expatriates that included comic Clive James and artist Brett Whiteley, demonstrating the Australian voice: earthy and irreverent yet polite on the surface.

“Edna has this way of doing things, and it seems to take the curse off of it,” Humphries told Reuters in 1998. “I get no complaints.”

Despite being a big name in the United Kingdom and Australia, he found the US market difficult to penetrate despite many tries. That changed in 2000, when he was 66, and his Broadway performance in Dame Edna: The Royal Tour landed him a Tony Award and a role in the sitcom Ally McBeal.

He also played Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo, authored a satirical advice column for Vanity Fair as Edna, and staged a cabaret event where he excluded shows that included swearing – a decision he argued would stimulate originality.

Humphries battled alcoholism for years, destroying his first marriage and nearly his life, but he quit drinking in his early 70s.

He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1982, named a Commander of the British Empire in 2007, and appeared on Australian postage stamps.

Barry Humphries children

However, an uproar following a series of remarks widely perceived as transphobic prompted the Melbourne International Comedy Festival to remove his name from its top prize in 2019. Humphries had a “chequered, dramatic” personal life, having married four times. His wife, actress Lizzie Spender, and his four children survive him.

Born in Melbourne in 1934, Humphries started his career in the 1950s as a satirical performer, and gained fame with his character Barry McKenzie, a stereotypical Aussie larrikin, in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, Humphries created the character of Dame Edna, a flamboyant and outspoken housewife, which brought him international fame and success. He has also created other memorable characters such as Sir Les Patterson, a crude and offensive politician, and Sandy Stone, a melancholy and nostalgic retiree.

Apart from his work in comedy, Humphries is also a successful actor and writer. He has written several plays and novels, and has acted in numerous films, including “Nicholas Nickleby” (2002) and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013).

Humphries was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2007 and was later elevated to a Knight Bachelor in the 2020 New Year Honours for his services to entertainment and the arts.

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