Paul O’Grady made life “easier” for the LGBT community and his impact on “culture, existence and humanity” resonates across the UK and world, fellow comedian Eddie Izzard has said.
The TV presenter, who rose to fame on the nightclub circuit as the acerbic, platinum wig-wearing Lily Savage, died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening at the age of 67, his partner, Andre Portasio, said in a statement.
He was “laughing, smiling and full of life” shortly before his death, his close friend and radio producer Malcolm Prince said as the Queen Consort and Ken Bruce joined those paying tribute.
ITV changed its schedule on Wednesday evening to re-air a special one-off episode of the show For The Love Of Dogs where he was joined by Camilla.
Izzard told the PA news agency: “If you track back how LGBTQ was seen, over the decades … it got gradually easier and easier and easier, and he definitely had a good part in saying, ‘I’m a drag queen’.”
The stand-up comedian, who has come out as gender fluid, told PA: “The fact he was out and openly gay, was cool and everyone, everyone began to calm down, because, obviously, other people who are LGBTQ came out over the years, but he was a good part of that.
“He was just very human … It’s great that he added so much to culture and existence and humanity in the United Kingdom, and that resonates around the world.”
Bruce, who departed BBC’s Radio 2 in March for a new mid-morning show on Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio, told PA: “I was always amazed by how easily Paul slipped into the style of radio presentation, because, you know, he was a comedian and an actor, and the two don’t always work together.
“But Paul came in and it was as if he’d been in a radio studio all his life.
“He was a terrific communicator; that was the secret to Paul, he could get his point of view and his personality across just in a few words.”
He added there was “an innate kindliness and a lack of nastiness” about O’Grady, who was a “much softer, gentler, kindlier person” than his alter-ego Savage.
Prince, who worked with O’Grady at both Radio 2 and Boom Radio – an independent station aimed at Baby Boomers – said he was devastated by the loss and added in a tweet: “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 said that O’Grady, who had been touring playing Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie, had been “so proud” of the role and added: “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. 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.”
O’Grady left his Radio 2 Sunday afternoon slot in August last year after almost 14 years following a schedule shake-up which saw him regularly swapping with comic Rob Beckett.
He and Prince, known to fans as #TeamPOG, appeared on Boom Radio for a Christmas special and were due to return to the station for a one-off show on Easter Sunday.
The royal family’s official Twitter account also paid tribute, posting an image of O’Grady with Camilla after they worked closely in support of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
The post read: “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of @Battersea_, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories.”
Camilla will be sharing her sympathies with O’Grady’s family privately in due course, Buckingham Palace added.
O’Grady and Mr Portasio married in a low-key wedding ceremony in 2017 and Mr Portasio’s statement said: “It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.
“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.
“I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.”
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.
Following the news, ITV confirmed the upcoming 11th series of For The Love Of Dogs would still launch on April 13 as planned.
Last year the Queen Consort featured in the programme to mark 160 years of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an organisation for which O’Grady was an ambassador.
In a statement shared with PA, the charity paid tribute to O’Grady as a “devoted animal lover” and a “champion for the underdog”.
The organisation’s chief executive, Peter Laurie, said: “Battersea will forever remember Paul as a devoted animal lover with the biggest heart, who fell head over heels in love with every dog he met at our centres.
“Paul will always be associated with Battersea and we are truly saddened to have lost such a true friend and huge part of our charity.”
The official Twitter account of the musical Annie said its cast and crew were “stunned and saddened” by the news.
The production, in which O’Grady shared his role with a rotating cast including Craig Revel Horwood, is currently on a week-long break but bosses said further news would be released in due course.
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 while working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden Council in London.
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, leading to his own shows on ITV and Channel 4.
He was made an MBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.
He attended the ceremony with his daughter, Sharyn Mousley, his child from a brief relationship he had when he was 17.
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