The comedian and presenter Paul O’Grady has passed away at the age of 67, as confirmed by his husband Andre Portasio in a statement.
O’Grady gained fame in the 1990s through his drag queen persona Lily Savage and went on to host popular TV programs such as Blankety Blank and other light entertainment shows like Blind Date. In the later stages of his career, he became a host of chat shows and showcased his affection for dogs on-screen. According to Mr Portasio, O’Grady passed away unexpectedly but peacefully on Tuesday evening. “He will be missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals, and those who appreciated his humor, wit, and empathy.”
Mr Portasio expressed gratitude on O’Grady’s behalf for the love he received throughout his career.
Just a few weeks ago, O’Grady had been on tour playing the character Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie. Taking to Instagram after performing in Newcastle, he expressed his delight at playing the role again and working with an “amazing and lovely” cast.
However, he recently departed from his weekly show on Radio 2 in August 2022, citing his displeasure at sharing his Sunday afternoon slot. O’Grady was also scheduled to present on Boom Radio for Easter Sunday, less than two weeks away from the time of his passing.
According to O’Grady’s long-time radio producer, Malcolm Prince, he had visited the star on Tuesday afternoon at his residence, where O’Grady seemed to be “laughing, smiling, and full of life.” Prince took to Twitter to express his shock at O’Grady’s passing, stating that O’Grady was proud of his work in Annie, thrilled to be back on Boom Radio, and eagerly anticipating several new projects. Prince also referred to O’Grady as a unique talent and a dear friend.
On Wednesday, Zoe Ball, during her Radio 2 breakfast show, expressed her and the team’s deep sadness upon hearing the news of O’Grady’s passing. She acknowledged that O’Grady had a special place in the hearts of Radio 2 listeners and the entire team.
Paul O’Grady was born in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in 1955 to a mother whose maiden name was Savage, which is believed to have influenced his famous drag persona. He began performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s and gained widespread recognition by advocating for LGBT issues.
Savage performed a solo show for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Later, he hosted The Lily Savage Show, a chat show for the BBC, in 1997.
O’Grady then presented a revamped version of the game show Blankety Blank, which aired until 2002. He later hosted The Paul O’Grady Show, which started on ITV in 2004, then moved to Channel 4 from 2006 to 2009 before being revived again in 2013 for two years on ITV.
In 2013, guest hosts fronted the chat show when O’Grady had a health scare. He had previously experienced heart attacks in 2002 and 2006, with the latter necessitating intensive care. In 2017, after the death of his friend Cilla Black O’Grady stepped up as the presenter of Blind Date when the show was rebooted on Channel 5.
Paul O’Grady had a successful career in television and won numerous awards including a TV Bafta, British Comedy Award and a National Television Award for The Paul O’Grady Show.
In 2008, he was awarded an MBE for his contribution to the entertainment industry in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. O’Grady had a daughter with his friend Diane Jansen in 1974 and later entered a marriage of convenience with a Portuguese lesbian in 1977, legally divorcing her in 2005.
He married his husband in a ceremony held in London in 2017. In November, O’Grady was appointed as one of Kent’s deputy lieutenants, a position that involves representing the King at events in the area. O’Grady lived in Aldington, near Ashford.