Barry Humphries Passes Away Aged 89

22 April 2023 | 8:49 pm | Stephen Green

Legendary Australian performer and creator of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson has died in a Sydney hospital today.

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Australia's entertainment industry is in mourning tonight with the news of the passing of Barry Humphries, one of the greatest performers the country has ever seen. 

The performer passed at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital where he had been treated over the past weeks after complications after a hip replacement. 

His family released the following statement: 

"He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit. With over 70 years on the stage, he was an entertainer to his core, touring up until the last year of his life and planning more shows that will sadly never be.

"His audiences were precious to him, and he never took them for granted. Although he may be best remembered for his work in theatre, he was a painter, author, poet, and a collector and lover of art in all its forms.“He was also a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and a friend and confidant to many. His passing leaves a void in so many lives.

"The characters he created, which brought laughter to millions, will live on."

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Barry Humphries was born in 1934 in Melbourne, beginning his comedic life in university. In 1959 Humphries moved to London where he contributed to the satirical magazine Private Eye with his best-known work being the comic strip The Wonderful World Of Barry McKenzie. He appeared in numerous West End productions, but it was also in London where he perfected his one-man satirical stage revues and introduced the world to characters like Dame Edna Everage

Dame Edna became an Australian institution. Known for her cat eye glasses and love of gladiolus flowers, she reflected an "average Australian housewife", with a back-story which continued to evolve across Humphries' career. She was an Australian institution, performing many times for the Queen and even gracing the cover of Cleo in 1974. Another of Humphries' most famous characters Sir Les Patterson was "obese, lecherous and offensive", created as Edna's opposite. A boorish and loud-mouthed Labor man, Sir Les was known for his ability to say things that people thought but dared not say in polite company. 

Humphries returned to Australia in the 1970s where Edna made her movie debut in The Naked Bunyip. He also created a big screen version of his Wonderful World of Barry McKenzie comic which starred Barry Crocker and featured Humphries playing three different parts. It became the most successful Australian film of all time to that point, paving the way for other Australian films in the 1970s and began a film career which included films as varied as Shock Treatment, Selling Hitler, Spice World and The Hobbit

Despite his film success, it was his one man shows that will be his lasting legacy. Barry Humphries toured his shows and beloved characters for more than five decades. His final tour in 2012 was critically acclaimed with shows across Australia and the United Kingdom. While it was his final large-scale tour, Humphries continued to make public appearances including at various festivals, cabaret shows and even a tour with various orchestras. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led the tributes for Humphries, taking to social media to say:

"For 89 years, Barry Humphries entertained us through a galaxy of personas, from Dame Edna to Sandy Stone. But the brightest star in that galaxy was always Barry. A great wit, satirist, writer and an absolute one-of-kind, he was both gifted and a gift. May he rest in peace."

Opposition leader Peter Dutton said: 

"Australia has lost its finest cultural raconteur, its most brilliant satirist, and its greatest cultural comedian with the passing of the witty and wonderful Barry Humphries AO CBE. He will forever be a treasured Australian icon. May he rest in peace."

Humphries leaves a massive legacy of work, with no less than 23 books, 26 films and 8 albums. His characters have been studied relentlessly as mirrors of Australian society and will no doubt continue to be looked upon as important cultural touchstones of Australia in the late 20th century.