Paul O’Grady, drag legend behind Lily Savage, dies at 67


Paul O'Grady and Lily Savage
Images: ITV, BBC

UK comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady, the comedian behind British drag queen Lily Savage, has died age 67.

His husband Andre Portasio confirmed in a statement Paul had “passed away unexpectedly but peacefully”.

“He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion,” Andre said.

“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.

“I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.”

Paul first started performing as Lily Savage (pictured above right) in the late 1970s, spending years on the pub and club circuit in London.

In the 1990s, Paul then became a mainstream star with TV work in the UK in character as Lily.

The entertainer retired his drag persona in the 2000s. But Paul O’Grady stayed on TV as himself, including as host of a talk show and animal docuseries For the Love of Dogs.

Lily Savage ‘the First Lady of British drag’

It’s not known how Paul O’Grady died, but he’d earlier said he survived heart attacks in 2002, 2006 and 2014. Tributes to the entertainer flowed after news of his death.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner The Vivienne wrote, “A very sad day. The First Lady of British Drag, an icon, a trailblazer and a legend. Cause havoc wherever you may be you inspiration.”

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said Paul was both a “brilliant” entertainer and dedicated activist.

“Paul wasn’t just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights,” he said.

“Paul was one of the loveliest people you could ever meet.

“Everyone whose lives he touched will miss him greatly, as will those who enjoyed his wit and admired his compassion.”

Up until his death, Paul O’Grady was back in drag on the stage as Ms Hannigan in Annie.

In 2008, the comedian received an MBE and in 2010 got the National Television Awards Special Recognition gong.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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