TV star Paul O’Grady dies aged 67

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Paul O’Grady, who shot to fame as trailblazing comic drag act Lily Savage before becoming one of the country’s best-loved TV presenters and DJs, died ‘unexpectedly but peacefully’ last night, his partner said. He was 67. 

Andre Portasio, who married O’Grady in 2017, paid tribute to his ‘humour, wit and compassion’ in a statement announcing his death released just before 3am.

‘It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening,’ Portasio said.

‘We ask, at this difficult time, that whilst you celebrate his life you also respect our privacy as we come to terms with this loss.

‘He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.

TV star Paul O’Grady died ‘unexpectedly but peacefully’ on Tuesday evening, his partner said

Paul as Lily Savage on Blankety Blank

Paul as Lily Savage on Blankety Blank

Paul hosted classic TV quiz show Blankety Blank as his alter-ego Lily Savage

Paul was pictured last week when it was announced he planned to take his radio show to Boom Radio after departing the BBC

Paul was pictured last week when it was announced he planned to take his radio show to Boom Radio after departing the BBC

‘I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.’

O’Grady and Portasio were married during a low-key wedding ceremony in 2017.

The father-of-one’s cause of death was not immediately revealed, however he had previously spoken of surviving heart attacks in 2002, 2006 and 2014, and also kidney failure.

During his career, he hosted The Paul O’Grady Show, Blind Date and Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s multi-award-winning For The Love Of Dogs. He also hosted ITV celebrity game show, Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up.

O’Grady took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, as he hosted the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017.

Last year he was joined by the Queen Consort in a special one-off episode of For The Love Of Dogs to mark 160 years of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an organisation for which he was an ambassador.

In August last year he presented his final BBC Radio 2 show having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years, later saying the station’s drive for younger listeners ‘doesn’t make sense’.

O’Grady had been set to return to the airwaves next month to host a one-off Easter Sunday radio show on Boom Radio. 

And he was performing right until the end – taking to the stage as Ms Hannigan in Annie at the Edinburgh Playhouse. 

Paul's death was announced by his partner Andre Portasio, who he married in 2017 (the couple are pictured here at the Royal Opera House in London in 2018)

Paul’s death was announced by his partner Andre Portasio, who he married in 2017 (the couple are pictured here at the Royal Opera House in London in 2018)

Paul and Amanda Holden chat to Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall, outside Buckingham Palace in July last year during a reception for Battersea Dogs Home, which he was closely associated with through his show For The Love Of Dogs

Paul and Amanda Holden chat to Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall, outside Buckingham Palace in July last year during a reception for Battersea Dogs Home, which he was closely associated with through his show For The Love Of Dogs

Maggie Kirkpatrick and Paul O'Grady as Lily Savage in rehearsals for the musical Prisoner Cell Block H 'The Musical' at the Queen's Theatre, London

Maggie Kirkpatrick and Paul O’Grady as Lily Savage in rehearsals for the musical Prisoner Cell Block H ‘The Musical’ at the Queen’s Theatre, London

Paul O'Grady performing as Lily Savage, as the Wicked Queen, in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London

Paul O’Grady performing as Lily Savage, as the Wicked Queen, in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London

Paul O'Grady after receiving an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University for services to entertainment

Paul O’Grady after receiving an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University for services to entertainment

Tributes began to pour in overnight from his showbusiness friends. Carol Vorderman said on Twitter: ‘Paul O’Grady. Already giving them raucous, ripping up the rulebook, mischief making, calling it out, loving hell in heaven.

‘Paul, what are we meant to do without you?’

Lorraine Kelly spoke of her pain at ‘such sad news’, adding:  ‘Paul O’Grady – funny, fearless, brave, kind and wise. Will be sorely missed. A really special man.’

X Factor’s Joe McElderry was also among the first to react to the shocking news. 

‘I was stood in Paul O’Grady’s dressing room less than 3 weeks ago! He was full of life chatting and being so wonderful as always! So so sad! And such a loss! A true showbiz entertainer! May he rest in peace,’ Joe tweeted.

Yesterday afternoon, I popped round to Paul’s for a good old catch-up. Surrounded by his beloved dogs, he was laughing, smiling and full of life… Oh how I’ll miss him.

– Malcolm Prince, Paul O’Grady’s friend and radio producer

And human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: ‘Paul wasn’t just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights.

‘He supported my work for many decades and was a valued patron of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

‘Paul was planning to lead our forthcoming campaign for the police to apologise for their historic persecution of the LGBT+ community. We will miss him. Our sincere condolences to his partner Andre and to all who loved him.

‘Paul was one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. Everyone whose lives he touched will miss him greatly, as will those who enjoyed his wit and admired his compassion.’

O’Grady’s former Radio 2 colleague Aled Jones Tweeted: ‘So sad to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady – a lovely lovely person x’

O’Grady’s long-time radio producer and close friend Malcolm Prince said he was with him just yesterday.

‘I’m devastated’, he wrote in a statement posted online. ‘Yesterday afternoon, I popped round to Paul’s for a good old catch-up. Surrounded by his beloved dogs, he was laughing, smiling and full of life.

‘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.’

He added: ‘We have lost a unique talent – and I’ve lost a dear friend. We were all lucky to have Paul in our lives.

‘My heart goes out to Andre, Paul’s family, and friends. Oh how I’ll miss him.’

Paul had previously spoken about battling back to health after heart trouble – typically making light of his brushes with death.

‘Three days after my last heart attack, I was back fire-eating with McFly,’ he said.

Paul first found TV fame as 'transvestite prostitute police informer' Roxanne on The Bill, a role he played three times between 1988 and 1990

Paul first found TV fame as ‘transvestite prostitute police informer’ Roxanne on The Bill, a role he played three times between 1988 and 1990

‘The heart is a muscle so you have two choices, sit on the sofa and count your tablets all day, or get on with it and get moving – swimming and walking, gentle exercise.’

Born in Birkenhead, on the Wirral, Merseyside, O’Grady’s mother’s maiden name was Savage – which is believed to have inspired his famous drag alter ego.

He began his career performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s whilst working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council, going on to tour northern England as part of drag duo the Playgirls.

He later settled into a solo show as Savage that ran for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and made a name for himself speaking out about LGBT issues.

O’Grady’s career as Savage took off with TV and radio appearances in character and he was eventually asked to take over from Paula Yates as The Big Breakfast presenter as Savage from 1995 to 1996.

He took on chat show The Lily Savage Show for the BBC for a short run in 1997 and later that year had success as the host of a revived version of gameshow Blankety Blank, which ran until 2002.

His self-titled teatime programme The Paul O’Grady Show aired on ITV from 2004 to 2005, later moving to Channel 4 as The New Paul O’Grady Show.

Paul’s daughter Sharon was born in 1974, her mother his close friend Diane Jansen. He gave Sharon away at her wedding and was overjoyed when she gave him two grandchildren. 

He and Diane never married but he was wed when he was 22 – to a Portuguese lesbian barmaid who he agreed to get hitched to to prevent her deportation.

‘She was from a very strict Catholic family and was always being hassled by them,  ‘Why aren’t you getting married?’

‘So I said: ‘Come on then, we’ll get married’, and we did. We were married for 28 years.’

Throughout his career O’Grady won numerous accolades including a TV Bafta, a British Comedy Award, and a National Television Award for The Paul O’Grady Show.

He was made an MBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.

Trailblazer who took his drag act from seedy south London clubs to Buckingham Palace and picked up millions of fans on the way

Paul O’Grady became a household name in the early noughties, known for his wit and love of animals.

The comedian and TV personality first rose to prominence as his drag queen persona Lily Savage in the 1980s and 1990s before going on to host a string of television programmes.

He was well known for his self-titled daytime chat show, The Paul O’Grady Show, which began airing in 2004, followed by the New Paul O’Grady Show.

O’Grady took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, to host the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017.

He also fronted Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s multi-award-winning For The Love Of Dogs.

Paul as Lily in a photo when he hosted Blankety Blank

Paul as Lily in a photo when he hosted Blankety Blank

Paul photographed at his home for the Big Issue in 1994

Paul photographed at his home for the Big Issue in 1994

Paul's star rose during the 1990s when he began presenting Channel 4's The Big Breakfast. He is pictured here at the British Comedy Awards in 1997 with Mrs Merton star Caroline Aherne

Paul’s star rose during the 1990s when he began presenting Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast. He is pictured here at the British Comedy Awards in 1997 with Mrs Merton star Caroline Aherne

Paul with Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth actress Liz Dawn in 1997

Paul with Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth actress Liz Dawn in 1997

Following the success of the latter, which was filmed at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, he became an ambassador for the organisation.

Last year he was joined by the Queen Consort in a special one-off episode of For The Love Of Dogs to mark 160 years of the home.

O’Grady’s love of animals was also apparent through his other work and in September 2016, he was recognised for his work with animals when he won the award for Outstanding Contribution to Animal Welfare at the RSPCA’s Animal Hero Awards.

He and his partner Andre Portasio lived in a farmhouse in Kent, alongside a menagerie of animals including four dogs, goats, sheep, chickens and barn owls.

O’Grady’s other on-air appearances included as host of ITV celebrity game show, Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up.

Last year he signed off from his final BBC Radio 2 show, having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years.

Paul was given his own chat show, and on a Christmas Special in 2021 he interviewed Dame Joan Collins

Paul was given his own chat show, and on a Christmas Special in 2021 he interviewed Dame Joan Collins

He was made an MBE in the 2008 Birthday Honours for services to entertainment and last year was appointed as a deputy lieutenant of Kent.

At the ceremony he was joined by Portasio, as well as his sister Sheila Rudd and daughter Sharyn Mousley.

Paul James Michael O’Grady was born in Birkenhead, on Merseyside, in 1955 – his mother’s maiden name was Savage.

The name is believed to have inspired his famous drag alter ego Lily Savage, who helped propel him to mainstream success.

O’Grady began his career by performing as Savage in the 1970s whilst working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council in north London.

He went on to tour northern England as part of drag duo the Playgirls, before settling into a solo show as Savage that ran for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

The comedian made a name for himself speaking out about LGBT issues and picked up a mainstream following after being nominated for a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 1991.

O’Grady’s career as Savage took off with TV and radio appearances in character and he was eventually asked to take over from Paula Yates as The Big Breakfast presenter as Savage from 1995 to 1996.

Paul was known for his love of animals and his work with Battersea Dogs Home, which saw him meet the future Queen last year

Paul was known for his love of animals and his work with Battersea Dogs Home, which saw him meet the future Queen last year

He took on chat show The Lily Savage Show for the BBC for a short run in 1997 and later that year had success as the host of a revived version of gameshow Blankety Blank, which ran until 2002.

On stage, he appeared in various stage productions including versions of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Annie, and starred in the BBC bingo hall sitcom Eyes Down from 2003 to 2004.

O’Grady became popular with a whole new audience as the host of The Paul O’Grady Show which aired in a teatime slot on ITV from 2004 to 2005, later moving it to Channel 4 as The New Paul O’Grady Show.

That same year he set up his own production company, Olga TV – reportedly named after his pet dog.

The company gained creative control for stints at Channel 4 running from 2006 to 2009, and 2013 to 2015.

O’Grady’s life-long love of animals also saw him branch out into presenting different styles of programming, among them Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans, which aired between 2014 and 2016 and saw him visit Africa to meet baby animals.

Following work on the show he became a patron of Orangutan Appeal UK.

O’Grady has also authored several books, including an autobiographical series detailing his childhood, the creation of Savage, and his years in the spotlight.

The series is divided into four titles; At My Mother’s Knee…And Other Low Joints, The Devil Rides Out, Still Standing: The Savage Years, and Open The Cage, Murphy.

Speaking following the publication of the third book in 2012, O’Grady recalled the death of his partner of 25 years, Brendan Murphy, in 2005.

‘Grief doesn’t happen immediately, it hits you after a while, because you’ve got all the funeral and the fuss, then when that dies down you find yourself on your own, with time to contemplate what’s happened,’ he said.

‘I thought, ‘I’m on my own, what do I do now?”.

He also spoke about his health at the time, having had two heart attacks, saying: ‘The worst thing you can do is to sit and fret. I take tablets and have check-ups every eight months when they put me on the treadmill. I say to them, ‘Heart attack or not, I’m hopeless on treadmills!”

O’Grady has also penned two other books, including Paul O’Grady’s Country Life, about his love of rural living.

During the coronavirus lockdown, he wrote his debut children’s book, Eddie Albert And The Amazing Animal Gang, which was published in September 2021.

Throughout his career O’Grady picked up various accolades including a TV Bafta, a British Comedy Award, and a National Television Award for The Paul O’Grady Show.



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