© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Dame Edna creator Barry Humphries dies at age 89

CANBERRA, Australia — Tony Award-winning comedian Barry Humphries, internationally renowned for his garish stage persona Dame Edna Everage, a condescending and imperfectly-veiled snob whose evolving character has delighted audiences over seven decades, has died. He was 89.

His death was confirmed Saturday by the Sydney hospital where he spent several days with complications following hip surgery.

Humphries had lived in London for decades and returned to native Australia in December for Christmas.

He told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper last month that his physiotherapy had been "agony" following his fall and hip replacement.

"It was the most ridiculous thing, like all domestic incidents are. I was reaching for a book, my foot got caught on a rug or something, and down I went," Humphries said of his fall.

Humphries has remained an active entertainer, touring Britain last year with his one-man show "The Man Behind the Mask."

The character of Dame Edna began as a dowdy Mrs. Norm Everage, who first took to the stage in Humphries' hometown of Melbourne in the mid-1950s. She reflected a postwar suburban inertia and cultural blandness that Humphries found stifling.

Edna is one of Humphries' several enduring characters. The next most famous is Sir Les Patterson, an ever-drunk, disheveled and lecherous Australian cultural attache.

Patterson reflected a perception of Australia as a Western cultural wasteland that drove Humphries along with many leading Australian intellectuals to London.

Humphries, a law school dropout, found major success as an actor, writer and entertainer in Britain in the 1970s, but the United States was an ambition that he found stubbornly elusive.

A high point in the United States was a Tony Award in 2000 for his Broadway show "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour."

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to the celebrated comedian.

"For 89 years, Barry Humphries entertained us through a galaxy of personas, from Dame Edna to Sandy Stone," Albanese tweeted, referring to the elderly Stone, one of Humphries most enduring characters. "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."

British comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted: "Farewell, Barry Humphries, you comedy genius."

Piers Morgan, British television personality, also paid tribute. "One of the funniest people I've ever met," Morgan tweeted.

"A wondrously intelligent, entertaining, daring, provocative, mischievous comedy Genius," Morgan added.

Married four times, he is survived by his wife Lizzie Spender and four children.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press