Frank Kelly, actor best known as ‘Father Jack’, dies

Death falls on the 18th anniversary of Dermot Morgan’s death

Irish actor Frank Kelly dies aged 77, here is a selection of moments fron perhaps his best known role as Father Jack in hit TV series 'Father Ted'. Video: Hat Trick Productions


Actor Frank Kelly, best known as Father Jack from the television show Father Ted, has died aged 77. His death falls on the 18th anniversary of fellow Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan’s death. Dermot Morgan also died on a Sunday.

Channel 4’s Father Ted sitcom ran from 1995 to 1998.

Kelly spent 60 years on screen and stage but revealed last November that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Ardal O’Hanlon, the actor who played the third of the trio of hapless clergymen in Father Ted, said: “Frank was an all-round talent, an institution in Irish entertainment, a very determined professional and he’ll be greatly missed by all who knew him.”

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to “the distinguished actor who made such a wide and valued contribution both on the stage and in film”.

“He will forever be remembered for his roles in the theatre and will be recalled with great affection and fondness for his roles on television, including in Wanderly Wagon, Glenroe and the much-loved Hall’s Pictorial Weekly,” said Mr Higgins.

“To his wife Bairbre and his family I send deepest sympathy; for theirs is the greatest loss of such a great and loving person. Sabina and I were privileged to have him as a friend.”

Director general of RTÉ Noel Curran also paid tribute to Kelly, describing him as a “versatile writer, satirist, performer and actor”.

“I would like to extend my sincere sympathies on behalf of RTÉ to his wife Bairbre, his seven children and 17 grandchildren.”

Father Ted writer Graham Linehan tweeted: “Terribly sad news. Thanks for everything.” Morgan’s son Don tweeted about the coincidence of the date of his co-star’s death. “Isn’t life just weird? Frank Kelly going on Dad’s anniversary.”

The actor beat bowel cancer in 2011 and underwent procedures to remove two small skin cancers in 2014.

Long before Father Jack, Kelly was a household name thanks to Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, a 1970s political satire on RTÉ.

“I have a great fondness for it,” he told The Irish Times in December 2015. “You used to be recognised wherever you went, often by very irate TDs, who felt it undermined them because it was so subversive. It was an extraordinarily strong piece of satire. It was taken off by RTÉ and we don’t know why.”

Kelly also appeared in RTÉ soap Glenroe between 1999 and 2011 and in the ITV soap Emmerdale.

Kelly’s first film role was as a prison officer in The Italian Job in 1969 when he escorted actor Michael Caine out of prison in the film’s opening sequence. His music career hit No 8 in the Irish charts and No 26 in the UK in December 1983 with the release of A Christmas Countdown.

Stand-out memories

Looking back on Father Ted, he said: “One of my stand-out memories was filming the consecration of the Holy Stone of Clonrichert up on the Cliffs of Moher, which was shot in the middle of a blizzard, with very high winds. I was the one nearest the edge and I nearly went over. It’s the nearest I ever came to meeting my maker while working.

“There was no improvisation of any kind allowed on the show. It adhered absolutely to the original script and that was the right thing to do because the writing was terrific.”

The secret of the show’s success for him was “the very close friendship between the cast. There was a lot of trust, we all loved each other. There was no big ego trying to take it over or cause trouble. Dermot was terrific like that, he never decided that the show was his, he shared it with the rest. If you had your lines he would never upstage you. He always appeared distant but that was because he was always thinking of the next gig.”

His favourite role, he says, was when he “played a gay man in The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley in the Olympia Theatre. It was very moving, long before gay liberation, very revolutionary. We had people sobbing, it was packed solid for a month. I remember Gay Byrne saying, ‘I don’t think Dublin audiences will want to see this kind of thing’. How times have changed.”

Additional reporting from PA