Paul O’Grady, the much-loved British TV presenter and comedian, has died at the age of 67. O’Grady was best known for his drag act persona, Lily Savage, which he developed in the 1970s while performing in gay clubs in London. He rose to national prominence in the 1990s, becoming a household name in the UK with shows such as The Paul O’Grady Show, Blankety Blank, and Blind Date.
O’Grady’s husband, Andre Portasio, confirmed in a statement that the comedian died unexpectedly but peacefully on Tuesday evening. “Paul’s kindness and compassion was a great comfort to all who knew him. We will miss him more than words can say,” Portasio said.
Born in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in 1955, O’Grady worked as a social worker for Camden council in London before launching his career as a comedian. He developed the character of Lily Savage based on his female relatives, creating a loud-mouthed, brash, and occasionally vulgar persona that was a hit with audiences.
O’Grady’s success as Lily Savage led to numerous TV and radio appearances, as well as a range of merchandise including books, videos, and even a line of dolls. He eventually retired the character in 2004, saying that he had become tired of the act and wanted to move on to other projects.
In addition to his work as a comedian, O’Grady was also a passionate animal lover and campaigned tirelessly for animal rights. He presented the award-winning show For The Love Of Dogs, which followed the work of the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, and was a patron of Orangutan Appeal UK. Last year, he was joined by the queen consort in a special episode of For The Love Of Dogs to mark the organisation’s 160th anniversary.
Throughout his career, O’Grady was known for his outspoken views on politics and social issues. He was a fierce critic of the Conservative Party and its policies, and was particularly vocal about the neglect of care workers and the impact of austerity measures on vulnerable people. He was also an advocate for LGBT+ rights and a supporter of numerous charities.
Tributes have been pouring in for O’Grady, with many of his friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry sharing their memories of the comedian. TV presenter Lorraine Kelly wrote on Twitter: “Paul O’Grady – funny, fearless, brave, kind and wise ... I always think dogs are the best judge of character and they ADORED him.” Comedian Jenny Eclair described O’Grady as “a true original,” while journalist and broadcaster Rachel Johnson called him “a treasure and a national institution.”
O’Grady is survived by his husband, Andre Portasio, his daughter Sharon, and two grandchildren. Fans of the comedian have been sharing their own tributes and memories on social media, with many describing him as a beloved figure who brought joy and laughter to millions of people over the course of his career.