Barry Humphries, the Australian comedian and actor best known for his drag persona Dame Edna Everage, died in Sydney on Saturday, April 22. The 89-year-old passed after being admitted to the hospital earlier in the week.
He underwent hip surgery earlier this year after tripping on a rug and falling and received treatment at a rehabilitation centre in March.
His signature character Dame Edna Everage, with her lavender-coloured hair, rhinestone glasses and catchphrase, “Hello, Possums!” was first conceived in 1956.
Dame Edna was created as satire but became extremely popular after Humphries began appearing as her on British television, and the drag artist even had her own mock celebrity talk show on NBC in the early 1990s called Dame Edna’s Hollywood.
Spanning seven decades, Humphries’s career in the entertainment world garnered him dozens of accolades, including a special Tony Award for his 1999 one-person show Dame Edna: The Royal Tour. He was nominated for four BAFTAs. During his long career, Humphries also wrote several books, novels, autobiographies and plays.
Responses to Humphries’s death poured in, with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeting: “For 89 years, Barry Humphries entertained us through a galaxy of personas from Dame Edna to Sandy Stone” He added, “But the brightest star in the galaxy was always Barry.”
Despite the popularity of his drag persona, Humphries was considered a controversial figure, most noticeably for comments against the trans community in recent years.
In 2016, in response to philosopher and writer Germaine Greer saying transgender women were “men who believe that they are women and have themselves castrated,” Humphries told The Telegraph, “I agree with Germaine! You’re a mutilated man, that’s all…Self-mutilation, what’s all this carry on?”
In 2019, Humphries claimed his position was “grotesquely misinterpreted” but didn’t clarify what he meant during his interview. The comedian also claimed that being trans is a “fashion” in an interview with The Spectator.
The actor also received backlash in 2003 when, in an advice column for Vanity Fair, his persona Edna replied to a reader who asked a question about learning Spanish, saying: “Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to? The help? Your leaf blower? Study French or German, where there are at least a few books with reading, or, if you’re American, try English.” Actress Selma Hayek was among those to criticise the comedian for the comments that many considered racist.
Humphries is survived by his wife, Lizzie Spender, four children from previous marriages and ten grandchildren.
© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.
During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.
GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.