LONDON – Entertainer Paul O’Grady, who achieved fame as drag queen Lily Savage before becoming a much-loved comedian and host on British television, has died. He was 67.
Britain's queen consort, who worked with O'Grady to support animal charities, led tributes to a performer who emerged from the alternative gay comedy scene and became a national treasure.
O’Grady’s partner Andre Portasio said he died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening.
“He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humor, wit and compassion,” Portasio said in a statement.
Born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, in 1955, O’Grady was working as a local-authority care worker when he began performing as Savage, a tart-tongued Liverpudlian drag queen.
Savage became a fixture as a standup and talent-show host at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a landmark gay venue. O’Grady used his platform to speak out about LGBT rights at the height of the AIDS crisis, a time when the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was passing anti-gay laws.
Lily Savage moved into television in the 1990s, including a stint hosting talk show “The Lily Savage Show.”
Later, as Paul O’Grady, he hosted talk shows and gameshows including “The Paul O’Grady Show,” “Blind Date” and “Blankety Blank,” as well as a long-running program on BBC radio.
An animal lover, he also presented “For the Love of Dogs,” which profiled the work of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an animal rescue charity. Camilla, the queen consort, was a guest on the show last year.
The official royal family Twitter account posted a picture of O'Grady and Camilla with the message: “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.”
Veteran gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said O’Grady “wasn’t just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights.”
“Paul was one of the loveliest people you could ever meet,” Tatchell said. “Everyone whose lives he touched will miss him greatly, as will those who enjoyed his wit and admired his compassion.”
O’Grady is survived by Portasio, whom he married in 2017, and by a daughter from a previous relationship.