Barry Humphries’ family say he was “himself until the very end”.
The late Dame Edna Everage comic died aged 89 at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday (22.04.23) afternoon after complications following hip surgery, and relatives including his wife Elizabeth Spender who were by his side said he held on to his famed wit until he passed away.
They said in a 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.”
Four-times married Barry’s four children including his sons Oscar and Rupert, and his daughters Emily – from whom he was estranged for 20 years decades before the pair recently reconciled – and Tessa are understood to have travelled from London to be by their father’s bedside in his native Australia.
He had been released from hospital days before his death, but was recently readmitted as his health worsened.
Along with his four wives and children, Barry is survived by 10 grandchildren.
His first wife was Melbourne actress Brenda Wright, who he married when he was aged 21.
He admitted he was not an easy man to be married to and said the marriage was “quite frankly – and it’s a cruel thing to say – to escape from my parents”.
Born John Barry Humphries in Kew, Melbourne, in 1934, Barry threw himself into acting and dressing up to escape what he felt was a boring childhood.
Just before he left Australia he married New Zealand dancer Rosalind Tong, with whom he had his two daughters.
Shortly after he moved to London in 1959 he befriended the Sixties most famous comics including Dudley Moore and Peter Cook.
But he fell into drinking despite theatre and film successes, and in 1970 returned to Australia, where, aged 36, his parents admitted him to a hospital in Melbourne after a near-death experience due to alcohol when he was found unconscious in a gutter.
He said about his drinking: “If you’re dependent on alcohol it's not only degrading but you only head in one direction – downwards.
“I moved on to whisky, which was like drinking petrol, and I was fond of Fernet Branca, a hangover drink that tasted ghastly so it was both a punishment and a cure.”
In 1979 he married artist Diane Millstead, with whom he had his two sons.
He married his fourth wife Lizzie – daughter of the poet Stephen Spender – in 1990.
They lived in a mansion flat in north London but had been more recently spending time in Australia.
He said his fourth marriage lasted as he had become “a bit smarter” about relationships.
Barry also admitted: “The truth is I’m not a very easy person to be married to.”
He said his characters including Dame Edna – globally famed for her “Hello, possums” greeting – and booze-fuelled Australian attaché Sir Les Patterson allowed him to say things about “political correctness” he felt he never could.
His health woes started when he tripped on a rug while reaching for a book in February and underwent surgery at St Vincent’s the following month.