TV Presenter and Comedian Paul O’Grady Dies Aged 67

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During his career, O'Grady hosted Bafta-winning talkshow The Paul O'Grady Show, Blankety Blank, celebrity gameshow Paul O'Grady's Saturday Night Line Up, and the reboot of Blind Date, taking over the reins from the show’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015.

British TV presenter and comedian Paul O’Grady, who broke onto the scene with his drag queen persona Lily Savage, has died at the age of 67.

He died "unexpectedly but peacefully" on Tuesday evening, his husband Andre Portasio said in a statement.

"We ask, at this difficult time, that whilst you celebrate his life you also respect our privacy as we come to terms with this loss," Portasio said.

"He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals, and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit, and compassion.

"I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years."

O'Grady rose to fame in the 1990s with his drag queen persona Lily Savage, going on to present game show Blankety Blank and other light entertainment programmes.

He later went on in his career to host a number of chat shows, and also brought his love of dogs to the screen.

He had recently been on tour playing Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie and was set to resume the role in performances around the United Kingdom and Ireland later this year.

The broadcaster left his weekly BBC Radio 2 show last August, having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years. He confirmed it was because he was unhappy about sharing his Sunday afternoon slot. 

In his final show, he said it was "one of the longest jobs I've ever held down. I only came to do a few hours for Elaine Paige and look what happened."

He was due to present on Boom Radio in less than two weeks' time for Easter Sunday.

O'Grady's long-time radio producer Malcolm Prince said he had visited the star at his home Tuesday afternoon, describing him as "laughing, smiling, and full of life".

Prince tweeted: "He was so proud of Annie, so happy to be back on Boom Radio, and he was looking forward to so many new projects.

"And now he's gone. I can't believe it. We have lost a unique talent - and I've lost a dear friend."

A statement released on behalf of Queen Consort, Camilla, said she was "deeply saddened to have learned of the death of Paul O'Grady, with whom she worked closely to support the work of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and whose warm heart and infectious humour lit up the lives of so many".

It added she will be "sharing her sympathies with Paul's family privately in due course".

“Such sad news,” TV presenter Lorraine Kelly tweeted, describing O'Grady as a "really special man". "Paul O’Grady - funny, fearless, brave, kind, and wise ...Will be sorely missed."

LGBTQ+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell remembered him as "one of the loveliest people you could ever meet," describing him as a "much-admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights".

Born in Birkenhead in 1955 to a mother whose maiden name was Savage, which is believed to have inspired his famous drag act, O'Grady began performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s. 

He later performed in a solo show that ran for eight years at London's Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and made a name by speaking out about LGBT issues.

O’Grady came to mainstream attention in 1991 when he was nominated for the Perrier award, the UK’s most prestigious comedy prize, and began appearing on radio and television as himself. He retired Savage to "a convent in Brittany" in 2004.

A well-known animal lover who kept dogs, pigs, bats, ferrets, and more at his farm in Kent, O’Grady presented the award-winning show For The Love Of Dogs.

He was joined last year by the Queen Consort in a special one-off episode to mark 160 years of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, an organisation for which he was an ambassador. 

He was also a patron of Orangutan Appeal UK and won an RSPCA Animal Hero award for his "outstanding contribution to animal welfare".

Throughout his career, O'Grady won a TV Bafta, British Comedy Award, and a National Television Award for The Paul O'Grady Show. In 2008, he was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.

The TV star had a daughter with his friend Diane Jansen in 1974. He later married a Portuguese lesbian in 1977 in a marriage of convenience and only legally divorced her in 2005.

O’Grady is survived by his husband Andre - whom he married in 2017 at a ceremony in London - his daughter Sharon, and two grandchildren.