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LGBTQ+ trailblazer and comedian Paul O'Grady dies at 67

O'Grady standing next to a costume of his alter ego Lily Savage - Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery
O'Grady standing next to a costume of his alter ego Lily Savage - Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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The British star and dog lover, known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage - long before the art form became mainstream - has died agead 67

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British TV star and comedian Paul O'Grady has died at the age of 67.

In a statement made by his partner Andre Portasio, it was said he died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday (28 March) evening.

O’Grady had a decades-long career but was perhaps best known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage. In the 1990s, he hosted a number of game shows - most notably Blankety Blank - in the guise of the deeply unglamorous, middle-aged Savage.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell highlights the extent that O'Grady contributed to increasingly the LGBTQ voice

He was a true trailblazer and prominent advocate of LGBTQ+ issues, beginning his career as Lily Savage in the 1970s and later performing at the iconic gay venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern cabaret club in London.

It’s often thought that RuPaul Charles and his eponymous Drag Race series brought the art of drag to a mainstream audience, but it was, in Britain at least, O’Grady who took it out of the fringes of society to primetime TV without making it more ‘gentle’ for the audience of the time - and people truly loved the character.

Comedian James Barr heralds Paul O'Grady for bringing drag to a mainstream audience during a time of crisis for the LGBTQ+ community

Interestingly, O'Grady wasn't actually a fan of the now internationally popular franchise RuPaul’s Drag Race, saying: “That's not drag! It's all about shading and contouring your face now and being like supermodels". 

He was a drag queen at a time when the queer community suffered horrific homophobia and abuse but Lily Savage won the nation’s hearts and O’Grady was propelled to TV and radio stardom in character.

Cheddar Gorgeous, runner up on the UK version of 'RuPaul's Drag Race' pays tribute

In 1997, he took over the helm of prime time favourite Blankety Blank, a show based on the US version Match Game - which, ironically, is parodied every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race as ‘Snatch Game’.

After his tenure on Blankety Blank came to an end, his career went from strength to strength and saw him host hugely popular comedy chat shows including The Paul O'Grady Show in 2004 and Paul O'Grady Live in 2010.

He was also very well known for his love of canine companions, presenting several shows including For the Love of Dogs and hosted the Queen Consort Camilla during one of the episodes. She said she is "deeply saddened" over his death. 

The British Royal family, also known for their love of dogs, pay tribute to O'Grady on Twitter

O'Grady also presented a reboot of 1990s classic Blind Date, took various acting roles and hosted numerous popular shows, including one on BBC radio.

In 2008, he was given an MBE award for services to entertainment and also won, among others, a TV BAFTA, a British Comedy Award and a National Television Award.

Andre Portasio, who married O'Grady in 2017, 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".

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