LONDON — Paul O’Grady, the famous British entertainer who gained fame as drag queen Lily Savage before becoming a beloved comedian and television host, has passed away at the age of 67. O’Grady’s partner Andre Portasio announced that he died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening. The news of his death was met with an outpouring of grief and tributes from fans and celebrities alike.
Born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, in 1955, O’Grady initially worked as a local-authority care worker before embarking on his career as a performer. As Lily Savage, a tart-tongued Liverpudlian drag queen, he became a fixture at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a landmark gay venue. At the height of the AIDS crisis, O’Grady used his platform to speak out about LGBT rights at a time when the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was passing anti-gay laws.
Lily Savage moved into television in the 1990s, hosting the talk show “The Lily Savage Show.” Later, as Paul O’Grady, he hosted talk shows and game shows including “The Paul O’Grady Show,” “Blind Date” and “Blankety Blank,” as well as a long-running program on BBC radio. An animal lover, O’Grady presented “For the Love of Dogs,” which profiled the work of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an animal rescue charity.
O’Grady was also known for his advocacy work, particularly for LGBT+ equality and animal rights. The official royal family Twitter account posted a picture of O’Grady and Camilla, the queen consort, with the message: “Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of @Battersea_, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories.”
Veteran gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell spoke highly of O’Grady, stating that he “wasn’t just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much-admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights.” Tatchell described O’Grady as one of the loveliest people you could ever meet, adding that everyone whose lives he touched will miss him greatly, as will those who enjoyed his wit and admired his compassion.
O’Grady is survived by his husband, Andre Portasio, whom he married in 2017, and by a daughter from a previous relationship. His death marks the end of a long and successful career, during which he became a beloved icon of British entertainment and a tireless advocate for social justice and animal welfare.