Australian comedian and actor Barrie Humphreys, best known for his portrayals of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, has died at the age of 89.
In a career spanning seven decades in theatre, television, books and film, Humphreys was renowned for his irreverent, uncomfortable and offbeat humour, poking fun at Australian culture with his personas, some of the best-loved comedies were included in the compositions. All Time: Dame Edna Everage, the flamboyant, waspish housewife of Mooney Ponds; Sir Les Patterson, the rude and boozy Australian cultural attache; the fundamentally gentle and senile Sandy Stone; And the archetypal Australian kicks off Barry McKenzie.
Everage, in particular, took on a life of his own, landing several talk shows, an appearance on Saturday Night Live, and a recurring role on the 1990s drama Ally McBeal. Humphreys specifically described Everage and Patterson as “wonderful outlets”. I am very careful about what I say. On the other hand, Edna and Sir Les may point to the emperor’s nudity.
Born John Barry Humphreys in 1934 in Cave, Melbourne, as a child he loved dress-up and acting. The eldest child of working-class parents, his “boring” childhood was spent “disguising himself as different characters” in the leafy suburb of Camberwell.
“I also found that entertaining people gave me a great sense of release,” he wrote, “making people laugh was a very good way of making friends with them. If people were laughing they couldn’t kill you.”
As a teenager he became a lover of literature, theatre, and art, all through his first constant character, Dr. Aaron Azimuth was a hooligan dandy and a Dadaist. He attended the University of Melbourne but never graduated, leaving in 1953 to make his theatrical debut at Melbourne’s Union Theatre.
Humphreys’ lifelong fascination with Dadaism manifested itself early in a series of erratic demonstrations amid ordinary life that would become legendary: one involved Humphreys, disguised as a Frenchman, to beat up a companion on a Melbourne tram who was blind. was pretending to be, to the horror and disgust of the passengers; On airplanes he would empty a tin of Heinz Russian salad into a sick bag, before vomiting and pretending to eat it. in another, he would hide a serving of roast beef and a glass of champagne in a bin; Then, dressed as a vagrant, he would rummage through the rubbish and sit down to his meal in front of astonished onlookers. “I was trying to bring theater to real life,” he said.
Dame Edna Everage throws her trademark gladioli into the audience at the Last Night of the Poems at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2009. Photograph: Mark Allen/Getty Images
In 1955, while driving a tour bus around rural Victoria in the Melbourne Theater Company’s production of Twelfth Night, she began to develop a character that would dominate her entire career: Edna Everage. With her lavender bouquet and wing-rimmed glasses, the flamboyant housewife was a parody of the stinging streak Humphreys saw in her parents’ generation, especially her mother. “I recognized the intrinsic bittersweet comedy of suburban life,” he later wrote.
In 1959 he moved to London, where he befriended British comedians and satirists, including Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Spike Milligan, with whom he worked frequently. He appeared in his first film, 1967’s Bedazzled, alongside Cook and Moore; wrote the cartoon The Wonderful World of Barrie McKenzie in Private Eye; and starred in several West End productions, including Oliver!, The Demon Barber, and a stint as Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Milligan.
Humphreys’ first one-man show in London, A Nice Night’s Entertainment, opened in 1962 to scathing reviews. He eventually starred in 1976’s Housewife, Superstar! The show’s success in the UK and Australia prompted Humphreys to move to the US in 1977; He later summed up the negative reception: “When The New York Times tells you to stop, you stop.”
Humphreys as Cultural Fellow Sir Les Patterson. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock
In London, Humphreys became a self-described “disgruntled, guilt-ridden, self-pitying alcoholic”, whose friends and family became increasingly concerned about his dependence on alcohol. During a trip to Australia in the early 1970s, after Humphreys was found unconscious in a gutter, his parents sent him to a private hospital to dry off. He never drank again – “I didn’t touch a drop for nearly 50 years,” he told the Observer in 2022 – and attempted to help Cook, who later died of an alcohol-related illness.
Humphreys transferred his comic strip to the big screen in The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie, in which he played three roles alongside Milligan and Cooke, in 1972: it became the most successful feature made in Australia at the time. In the 1974 sequel, Mackenzie’s Aunt Edna was made a dame by the then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during a cameo.
In the late 1980s, Everage landed his own talk show in Britain, The Dame Edna Experience, which delighted audiences in irreverent and absurdist interviews with celebrities; Humphreys took the format to the US in the 1990s, launching Dame Edna’s Hollywood. Giving interviews as Edna, she claimed that Barrie Humphreys was her manager, and also wrote several books as her, including the 1989 autobiography, My Gorgeous Life: The Life, the Loves, the Legend. As Average, Humphreys won an Olivier for Best Comedy Performance in 1979 and a Tony Award in 2000, a feat he described as “like winning a thousand gold medals at the same time”.
During his career, Humphreys appeared in films such as The Great Goblin in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Bruce the Great White Shark in Finding Nemo. He also appeared in The Rocky Horror Picture Show sequel Shock Treatment; the Spice Girls film Spice World; and had minor roles in Da Kath and Kim Code and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.
Dame Edna Everage met the Queen at a gala performance for the monarch’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Photograph: PA
He lived in West Hampstead, London, for 40 years; However, he claimed to always travel with a copy of the Mailways Street Directory so that he could understand the streets of Melbourne and “dream of Hawksburn, Rosanna, Aspendale, Gardiner, Denys and Spotswood”.
Humphreys was married four times and had four children. His last marriage was to actor Lizzie Spender in 1990, which lasted until his death. “Why did this last marriage last? Oh, because I’m a little smarter now,” he once said. “The truth is I’m not a very easy person to marry.”
He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1982 and a CBE in 2007 for services to entertainment. About the latter he said, “I am very honored.” “At last I can address Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage at a better level.”
In his later years, Humphreys was criticized for a number of comments relating to race and gender; The Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Barrie Awards were renamed after much controversy. He told the Guardian in 2018, “It’s so easy to shock people these days.” It’s ridiculous.”
He announced his retirement from live entertainment in 2012, as he was “starting to feel a bit senior”. However 10 years later, at the age of 88, he embarked on one last tour around Britain.