From charming the British royal family, performing with Kylie Minogue and swapping fashion tips with Princess Diana, Barry Humphries provided many unforgettable moments during his nearly 70-year career in showbusiness.
The comedian, who died at 89 on Saturday from complications following hip surgery, also kept an eclectic circle of friends from Peter Cook, Salvador Dali and The Beatles.
Humphries was surrounded by his children and wife of 30 years Lizzie Spender when he passed away at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.
For weeks the comic had brushed aside concerns about the seriousness of his condition, but on Saturday a spokesperson confirmed he had died.
Humphries tripped on a rug while reaching for a book in February and underwent surgery at St Vincent’s where he was readmitted this week.
In a statement, his family said: ‘He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit.’
They added that he ‘was also a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and a friend and confidant to many. His passing leaves a void in so many lives.’
Biographer Anne Pender wrote in 2010 that Humphries was both ‘the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin’ and ‘the most significant theatrical figure of our time’.
Here Daily Mail Australia takes a look at some of the most iconic moments of the comedy legend behind Dame Edna Everage and and Sir Les Patterson.
The Australian comedy legend, who died aged 89 on Saturday after complications from hip surgery, kept an eclectic circle of friends from Peter Cook to Salvador Dali and The Beatles. He is pictured as Dame Edna
Charming the Queen, making prank calls with Princess Margaret and some very surprising chats with King Charles
Throughout his career, Barry – and Edna – have met and charmed most of the royal family, from the late Queen herself, to the Queen Mother and King Charles.
Dame Edna famously exchanged fashion tips with Princess Diana, and commentated on two royal weddings, including that of Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson in 1986.
But it was through English poet John Betjeman that Humphries had a very memorable non-encounter with Princess Margaret.
‘I was on stage in Treasure Island with Willie Rushton and Spike Milligan, and after the show we’d all repair to the bar,’ he recalled to Weekend Magazine last year.
Princess Diana is pictured meeting Humphries at a line-up at the London Palladium, in 1987
Humphries’ most famous creation is Dame Edna Everage who began life as Melbourne housewife Mrs Edna Everage in a 1955 skit. The self-proclaimed ‘gigastar’ is pictured meeting the future Kings Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2010
‘One evening the barman shouted out, “Call for you, Barry. Says she’s Princess Margaret.” So I went to the phone and the voice at the other end said, ”Hello, it’s Princess Margaret. I have Sir John Betjeman here. We want you to come over now and have some supper with us”.
Commenting on Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding
Dame Edna’s colourful jokes extending to all members of the royal family.
Back in 1986, she was hosing Channel 9’s coverage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding.
But Dame Edna’s commentary stole the show.
‘When Fergie finally arrived at the Abbey, standing in an open carriage, Dame Edna waved a huge bunch of gladdies and screamed at the top of her lungs.
‘Fergie saw her, almost fell over laughing, and waved wildly back to Edna. It was a great moment, a great coup for Aussie royalty,’ Ray Martin wrote in his memoir.
He went on to describe Fergie as ‘that pretty little Sarah’ while also saying she would like to give ‘a few tips about the wedding itself’.
‘I thought it was a hoax so I laughed and put the phone down. Well, it turned out it really had been Princess Margaret, which didn’t bode well for our next encounter. I could tell by a certain froideur when I was presented to her in a line-up. It was clear she hadn’t been best pleased.’
Then there was the Lord Snowdon incident. Barry was friendly with the composer Stanley Myers, and one evening they went for dinner at Chez Moi, a fashionable restaurant in London’s Holland Park.
‘I had a habit when I’d taken a few drinks of dropping my trousers to shock people. Lord Snowdon and some friends were at another table. Stanley goaded me to perform my “trick”, so on my way back from the gents I allowed my trousers to descend to my ankles as I passed Snowdon’s party.
‘Back at my table the head waiter approached and told me I had to leave. Lord Snowdon, apparently, had not been amused. Two burly waiters lifted me from my chair and propelled me out into the street. I couldn’t get back in because the door had been locked from the inside.’
Undeterred, Barry found a phone booth and called the restaurant.
‘When they answered I said in my best fluting tones, “Please could I speak to Lord Snowdon? It’s his mother.” When he came to the phone I said, “Tony, how dare you be so rude to my dear friend Barry. He’s very nice but he’s given to these pranks”.
“You should excuse him, particularly when I remember some of the things you got up to before you were married. So please apologise and buy him a large bottle of Champagne.
“I believe he’s outside the restaurant now.” Snowdon was spluttering at the end of the line, “Who is this?” That’s when I put the phone down.’
Barry recounts putting the phone down on Princess Margaret because he thought the call was a hoax. Pictured: Barry as Dame Edna with the Queen in 1977
Despite his close relationship with the royals, Humphries avoid the usual pomp and circumstance when he mingled with family members.
Instead of a stiff upper lip, hosting jubilee coverage twice saw him refer to Her Majesty by his famous catch line, ‘possum’.
‘Here’s the Jubilee Girl, possums,’ he said in 2002 while co-hosting the Party at the Palace concert to mark the Queen’s 50th Jubilee.
After meeting the Queen in 2008, when he was presented with his Commander of the British Empire medal by Her Majesty, he revealed she was a fan.
‘She said that she’d been greatly entertained by a lot of my shows,’ he said.
‘I’ve just celebrated my 50 years on the stage, so it’s a great honour that my sovereign should bestow this on me, and I’m very, very pleased.
‘I like medals, and all that sort of thing.’
Humphries is pictured being awarded Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in October, 2007
Writing in 2013, Humphries joked: ‘In those happier years, they met often, exchanging fashion tips. You can see the envy in Lady Di’s body language’
FRIENDS AND ADMIRERS PAY TRIBUTE TO BARRY HUMPHRIES:
* ‘A great wit, satirist, writer and an absolute one-of-kind, he was both gifted and a gift.’ – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
* ‘Australia has lost its finest cultural raconteur, its most brilliant satirist, and its greatest cultural comedian …’ – Opposition Leader Peter Dutton
* ‘Farewell, Barry Humphries, you comedy genius.’ British comedian Ricky Gervais
* ‘Funny, literate and fiercely intelligent.’ – Australian television and stage star Jason Donovan.
* ‘A God of comedy. What a massive loss.’ – Australian comedian Marty Fields.
* ‘A wondrously intelligent, entertaining, daring, provocative, mischievous comedy genius.’ – British television host Piers Morgan
Source: Australian Associated Press
He was also friendly with King Charles, having appeared at a Prince’s Trust concert in 2006 and also commentated the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
King Charles, Humphries claimed, he said, particularly liked his Sir Les character.
One performance saw the pair reportedly discussing how much saliva he could produce while in character, which he cheekily told the royal: ‘With the gladioli, I can get them into Camilla’s lap if she’s sitting in the front row of the dress circle.’
Charles reportedly asked if he ‘had some kind of tube running down his mouth’ to which he replied: ‘No, I produce it myself.’ It really is organic. I can expectorate six rows into the stalls.’
Chasing Kylie Minogue off the stage
Barry said Kylie Minogue (pictured together) is one of nature’s life-enhancers
While he often rubbed shoulders with the British royal family the comedian was also close friends with Australia’s princess of pop.
‘She’s gorgeous, beautiful inside and out, and she’s had a great career,’ Barry said of Kylie Minogue in 2022.
‘She’s one of nature’s life-enhancers. I know her parents and I sometimes have lunch with her father.’
But at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1999, while in character as Sir Les, he chased the hitmaker off the stage.
‘I know a lot of you are asking what is Les Patterson doing in a beautiful venue like this?’ he told the audience.
‘And I tell you, I’m asking the same question.’
Later, he duetted with Kylie, who said: ‘Dear old Sir Les got a bit carried away. I said to Barry afterwards, ‘You’re very naughty and you deserve a big smack.’
‘That Kylie Minogue should be chased off the stage by a phallus-brandishing Australian diplomat seemed, in a way, a first,’ added Humphries.
‘For me, anyway, it was a taste of the old outrageous days.’
He first appeared on the Michael Parkinson in the early 1970s (Pictued in 1978) and became his favourite guest
Humphries with Sean Connery in 1987; In an early incarnation of Les Patterson
Telling the world Tom Jones ‘had work done’
Known for his cheeky performances on chat shows, Dame Edna was a favourite guest of British presenter Michael Parkinson.
Back in 2002, she appeared alongside Welsh singer Tom Jones.
Humphries’ first gig
Before becoming one of the biggest legends in Australian showbiz history, Humphries was a member of Melbourne University Union Theatre.
But her feared he was being ‘phased out’ after getting smaller and smaller roles – thanks to his struggle to remember lines.
Eventually, he did land a job. As a dog.
‘I finally got a job in a play, Of Mice and Men. I had to be a dog, barking offstage. I was very good at it. I managed to bark correctly, with textual fidelity. But I knew it was the end,’ he said.
Usually known for his cool persona, the Sex Bomb hitmaker got worked up when Dame Edna insinuated he ‘had a bit of work done’.
Ignoring his protestations, Dame Edna insisted Jones ‘had a bit of tightening here and there’ but charmed him by saying ‘the thing is you are still recognisable and that’s what I like’.
‘Some people go in to see these cosmetic surgeons and they forget, before the anaesthetic takes over, to say, ‘I want people to know who I am when I come out.’
‘They go in like a Mercedes and they come out looking like a the backside of a Ford Mondeo.’
‘Coming out’ mix-up
In a more recent chat show appearance, Dame Edna appeared on the UK’s This Morning, where he left viewers in hysterics after her praised ‘brave’ Dermot O’Leary for coming out as gay – after jokingly mistaking him for a different chat show host Phillip Schofield.
Appearing on the ITV show in November 2021, Barry discussed his ‘very good memory’ ahead of his tour.
He then went on to tell Dermot: ‘And incidentally I want to congratulate you by the way, seriously, on your courage.’
Co-host Alison Hammond burst out laughing as he continued: ‘Last year, no, no, when he came out and told us about his sexuality. Because I think a lot of people respected you for that.’
A laughing Dermot replied: ‘Thank you. I’ll pass that on to the gentleman who’s here from Monday to Thursday…
‘Don’t worry, your memory is crystal clear. Thank you for your kind comments,’ he added after the comic said: ‘Sorry, have I…’
Veteran comedian Barry Humphries (pictured) has caused a frenzy online after appearing on This Morning today and mistaking host Dermot O’Leary for his colleague Phillip Schofield
Appearing on the ITV show today, Barry, who arrived with tissue stuck between his shirt and neck after being rushed into makeup, discussed his ‘very good memory’ ahead of his tour
King of pranks
The royal family aren’t the only ones who have fallen victim to Humphries pranks.
His agent, New Zealand-born agent Harry M Miller, also was a regular target.
Writing in his 2010 memoir, Confessions of a Not So Secret Agent, he revealed that back in 1971 he received a letter ‘signed by’ then Prime Minister William McMahon, where he both asked for a job and promised him a special Australia Day honour.
Left ‘flummoxed’ by the article, Mr Miller said he was flattered.
It was until days later that he realised he had been pranked by Humphries.
Fashion faux pas with Jerry Hall – and meet-ups with celebrities
Jerry Hall turned up on Edna’s TV show wearing exactly the same dress as her host, which Edna’s son Kenny had originally designed.
It was an embarrassing moment, but the ladies were soon reconciled.
Writing for Daily Mail’s event magazine in 2013, Barry wrote: ‘Edna is an old Rolling Stones groupie and I can now reveal that she was the inspiration for the fairly recent Stones hit Dangerous Beauty’.
Jerry Hall turned up on Edna’s TV show wearing exactly the same dress as her host, which Edna’s son Kenny had originally designed
He was a been a fixture of the local entertainment scene for seven decades and is also a genuine international star. He is pictured with Liza Minnelli
Having attended Elizabeth Taylor’s 60th birthday party at Disneyland Florida, the pair later met in London at a gala luncheon in 1991 (pictured) where they raised money for Aids charities
In 2004, Edna did the New Year’s Countdown in Times Square with Brooke Shields. ‘It was a great honour and I was a big fan of Brooke’s. Tragically, it turned out that they wanted Edna and not me, but the two ladies had a good time anyway’ Humphries said
BARRY HUMPHRIES’ FAMILY’S FULL STATEMENT
’He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit.
‘With over 70 years on the stage, he was an entertainer to his core, touring up until the last year of his life and planning more shows that will sadly never be.
‘His audiences were precious to him, and he never took them for granted.
‘Although he may be best remembered for his work in theatre, he was a painter, author, poet, and a collector and lover of art in all its forms.
‘He was also a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and a friend and confidant to many. His passing leaves a void in so many lives.
‘The characters he created, which brought laughter to millions, will live on.’