TV presenter and comedian Paul O’Grady has died at the age of 67, his partner Andre Portasio has said.
The TV star, also known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage, died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening, a statement shared with the PA news agency via a representative said.
Mr Portasio said in his statement: “It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.”
“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.
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“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 and Portasio were married during a low-key wedding ceremony in 2017.
During his career, he hosted The Paul O’Grady Show, Blind Date and Blankety Blank, as well as ITV’s multi-award-winning For The Love Of Dogs.
He also hosted ITV celebrity gameshow, Paul O’Grady’s Saturday Night Line Up.
O’Grady took over the reins from Blind Date’s long-running presenter and his close friend Cilla Black, who died in 2015, as he hosted the Channel 5 reboot of the show in 2017.
Last year he was joined by the Queen Consort in a special one-off episode of For The Love Of Dogs to mark 160 years of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an organisation for which he was an ambassador.
O’Grady’s love for animals was well-known, and he had lived in a farmhouse in Kent with Portasio along with a menagerie of animals including four dogs, goats, sheep, chickens and barn owls.
O’Grady’s Irish relatives paid tribute to the entertainer on Wednesday evening. O’Grady’s late father, Paddy Grady, or ‘Pakie’ as he was known locally, grew up on a farm in the townland of Ballincurry near the village of Glinsk on the Roscommon/Galway border. Pakie moved to Birkenhead near Liverpool in England where he set up home with his wife, Molly Savage. Her parents had emigrated to England from county Louth so her family had strong Irish connections.
Many relatives of Paul O’Grady still live in the Glinsk area and Mickey Grady, a first cousin of Paul’s father, who lives in the house Paul visited as a child, said that he has many fond memories of Paul and his siblings’ visits to Ballincurry. “We were all very sad to hear of his death. He loved animals and had fond memories of his time here”, recounted Mickey.
The popular entertainer last visited Glinsk in 1993 while filming the movie ‘In the Name of the Father’ in Dublin but the family had kept in touch with him since by letter and email. Paul played a prison inmate in that Jim Sheridan directed drama based on the true story of the Guildford Four.
As a young child, he made regular journeys back to Glinsk with his parents and brother and sister, staying at his granduncle James’s farm in Ballincurry. O’Grady and his two siblings, Brendan and Sheila, joined James’s family for the school holidays, taking part in the summer farm work and visiting the family’s relatives in Glinsk and Creggs in County Galway and Tulsk in County Roscommon.
During the coronavirus lockdown, he wrote his debut children’s book, Eddie Albert And The Amazing Animal Gang, which was published in September 2021.
In August of 2022 he presented his final BBC Radio 2 show having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years.
O’Grady had been set to return to the airwaves next month to host a one-off Easter Sunday radio show on Boom Radio.
ITV presenter Lorraine Kelly described O’Grady as “a really special man” in an online tribute.
“Such sad news. Paul O’Grady – funny, fearless, brave, kind and wise. Will be sorely missed. A really special man.”
Replying to another Twitter user, she said: “I always think dogs are the best judge of character and they ADORED him.”
Born in Birkenhead, on the Wirral, Merseyside, O’Grady’s mother’s maiden name was Savage – which is believed to have inspired his famous drag alter ego.
He began his career performing as Lily Savage in the 1970s whilst working as a peripatetic care officer for Camden council, going on to tour northern England as part of drag duo the Playgirls.
He later settled into a solo show as Savage that ran for eight years at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and made a name for himself speaking out about LGBT issues.
O’Grady’s career as Savage took off with TV and radio appearances in character and he was eventually asked to take over from Paula Yates as The Big Breakfast presenter as Savage from 1995 to 1996.
He took on chatshow The Lily Savage Show for the BBC for a short run in 1997 and later that year had success as the host of a revived version of gameshow Blankety Blank, which ran until 2002.
His self-titled teatime programme The Paul O’Grady Show aired on ITV from 2004 to 2005, later moving to Channel 4 as The New Paul O’Grady Show.
Throughout his career O’Grady won numerous accolades including a TV Bafta, a British Comedy Award, and a National Television Award for The Paul O’Grady Show.
He was made an MBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to entertainment.
He attended the ceremony with his daughter Sharyn Mousley. —PA