LGBT+ community pay tribute to legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne

Irish icon and first host of The Late Late Show, Gay Byrne, has passed away at the age of 85.

Gay Byrne smiling in a radio recording studio.

RTE broadcaster Gay Byrne has died at the age of 85. His family said in a statement,”It is with sadness that Kathleen, Crona and Suzy wish to announce that their beloved Gay has died peacefully at home today, surrounded by his family.”

Byrne has been long praised for his approach to TV presenting and enjoyed a successful career from the first airing of The Late Late Show in 1962. During his time on air, he discussed topics which were rarely spoken about on television such as divorce, abortion and LGBT+ issues. 

Following news of his passing, Panti Bliss-Cabrera wrote on Twitter, “When doing a particular show abroad I’d add a line to explain Gay Byrne and what he meant to Ireland and Irish Mammies. It changed in different countries. He’s like a cross between Johnny Carson, Dan Rather and Angela Landsbury, Terry Wogan, Jeremy Paxman, the Queen Mother. RIP.”

Chat show host Graham Norton expressed his heartbreak to the news, “So very sad to hear about the passing of Gay Byrne. He was a giant in broadcasting. He showed us all how it should be done. Generous, funny, informed but more than anything else, completely at ease on air. My thoughts are with Kathleen, the girls and a nation that adored him.”

BeLonG To Youth Services posted on Twitter, “RIP #GayByrne – Speaking in support of Marriage Equality in 2015 ‘Yes, I think it’s long overdue. You must remember, I lived through people walking out of The Late Late Show because we were discussing the possibility of decriminalising homosexuality’.”

During the marriage equality referendum in 2015, Gay Byrne became a key figure for the Yes side. Throughout his career, he used his platform to shine an important light on issues facing the LGBT+ community. In 2016, he was nominated for GALAS LGBT+ Ally Award. 

One Twitter user described the impact of Byrne’s Yes posters, “Very sad news about Gay Byrne. Canvassing for same-sex marriage, a woman was unsure and I asked if I could leave a leaflet. This was the next one. I saw her face instantly change, ‘he’s voting yes?’ and that was that.” Another person responded to the post by sharing a similar experience, “One older woman saw that leaflet and said ‘I was going to vote no, but if Gay is voting yes maybe I should think about it more.’ The man was a titan.”

Founder of This Is Me Ireland, Noah Halpin said, “Very sad to hear of the passing of Gay Byrne. A neighbor of mine for many years. A gentleman always. He will be missed by an entire nation.”

In 1994, Gay Byrne interviewed Thom McGinty about living with HIV on The Late Late ShowAs a presenter, he would engage in vital conversations around sexual health and sexual awareness in Ireland. HIV Ireland shared their condolences to news of the loss on Twitter, “RIP #GayByrne. From the @RTEArchives, here’s a clip from the #LateLateShow Extra aired on 15th May 1987 during the #AIDS crisis in #Ireland when Gay (controversially) showed a #condom on national television followed by a film on how to use condoms.”

One Twitter user described Byrne as, “A formidable figure that ushered formidable change. From providing the first instances of visibility for the Irish LGBT community having a discussion on condom use during the AIDS crisis, Gay Byrne was central to platforming queer Ireland in a landscape of silence and shame.”

President Michael D Higgins described Gay Byrne as a man who “exuded warmth and presence.” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State, a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways.”

Stephen Fry sent RTE’s Drivetime show a touching tribute.

A book of condolence will be opened at Dublin’s Mansion House tomorrow from 11am to 5pm and Wednesday from 10am to 5pm.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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