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Barry Humphries, a.ok.a. Dame Edna, Is Useless at 89

Oh, Possums, Dame Edna isn’t any extra.

To be unflinchingly exact, Barry Humphries, the Australian-born actor and comedian who for nearly seven a long time introduced that divine doyenne of divadom, Dame Edna Everage, to delirious, dotty, disdainful Dadaist life, died on Saturday in Sydney. He was 89.

His demise was confirmed by the hospital the place he had spent a number of days after present process hip surgical procedure. In a tribute message posted on Twitter, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia praised Mr. Humphries as “a fantastic wit, satirist, author and an absolute one-of-kind.”

A stiletto-heeled, stiletto-tongued persona who may nicely have been the spawn of a ménage à quatre involving Oscar Wilde, Salvador Dalí, Auntie Mame and Miss Piggy, Dame Edna was not a lot a personality as a cultural phenomenon, a power of nature trafficking in depraved, sequined commentary on the character of fame.

For generations after the day she first sprang to life on the Melbourne stage, Dame Edna reigned, bewigged, bejeweled and bejowled, one of many longest-lived characters to be channeled by a single performer. She toured worldwide in a sequence of solo stage reveals and was ubiquitous on tv in america, Britain, Australia and elsewhere.

A grasp improviser (lots of Dame Edna’s most stinging barbs had been ad-libbed) with a face like taffy, Mr. Humphries was extensively esteemed as one of many world’s foremost theatrical clowns.

“I’ve solely seen one man have energy over an viewers like that,” the theater critic John Lahr instructed him, after watching Dame Edna evening after evening in London. “My father.” Mr. Lahr’s father was the good stage and cinematic clown Bert Lahr.

Mr. Humphries conceived Edna in 1955 as Mrs. Norm Everage, typical Australian housewife. “Everage,” in spite of everything, is Australian for “common.”

However Edna quickly turned a case examine in exorbitant amour propre, lampooning suburban pretensions, political correctness and the cult of movie star, and buying a damehood alongside the best way. A “housewife-superstar,” she referred to as herself, upgrading the title in later years to “megastar” and, nonetheless later, to “gigastar.”

In Britain, the place Mr. Humphries had lengthy made his residence, Dame Edna was thought-about a nationwide treasure, a paragon of efficiency artwork lengthy earlier than the time period was coined.

In america, she starred in a three-episode sequence, “Dame Edna’s Hollywood,” a mock movie star speak present broadcast on NBC within the early Nineties, and was a frequent visitor on precise speak reveals.

She carried out a number of instances on Broadway, successful Mr. Humphries a particular Tony Award, in addition to Drama Desk and Theater World Awards, for “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour,” his 1999 one-person present.

In her stage and TV reveals, written largely by Mr. Humphries, Dame Edna sometimes made her entrance tottering down a grand staircase (Mr. Humphries was greater than six toes tall) in a tsunami of sequins, her hair a bouffant violet cloud (she was “a pure wisteria,” she favored to say), her night robe slit to the thigh to disclose Mr. Humphries’s surprisingly good legs, her physique awash in jewels, her eyes agape behind sprawling rhinestone glasses (“face furnishings,” she referred to as them).

Addressing the viewers, she delivered her signature greeting, “Hellooooo, Possums!”

By turns tender and astringent, Dame Edna referred to as viewers members “possums” typically. She additionally referred to as them different issues, as when, leaning throughout the footlights, she would tackle a girl within the entrance row in a confiding, carrying voice: “I do know, expensive. I used to make my very own garments, too.”

Performances concluded with Dame Edna flinging lots of of gladioli into the group, no imply feat aerodynamically. “Wave your gladdies, Possums!” she exhorted viewers members who caught them, and the night would finish, to music, with a mass valedictory swaying.

Between the “Hellooooo” and the gladdies, Dame Edna’s audiences had been handled to a confessional monologue deliciously akin to discovering oneself stranded in a corridor of vainness mirrors.

There was commentary on her husband and kids (“I decided: I put my household final”); her magnificence routine (“Good vanity is essential. I look within the mirror and say, ‘Edna, you’re attractive, attractive, attractive’”); and the constellation of luminaries who routinely sought her counsel, amongst them Queen Elizabeth II and her household. (“I’ve needed to change my phone quantity a number of instances to cease them ringing me.”)

Dame Edna’s TV reveals had been typically graced by precise movie star company, together with Zsa Zsa GaborCharlton HestonSean ConneryRobin Williams and Lauren Bacall.

They got here in for no much less of a drubbing than the viewers did, beginning with the inaugural affront, the affixing of immense title tags to their lapels — for eclipsed by the sunshine of gigastardom so shut at hand, who amongst us wouldn’t be lowered to anonymity?

“Chuck,” Mr. Heston’s title tag learn. Ms. Gabor acquired two: a “Zsa” for the precise shoulder and a “Zsa” for the left.

A couple of pleasantries had been exchanged earlier than Dame Edna moved in for the kill.

“You’ve had 9 hits this 12 months,” she purred fawningly on the singer-songwriter Michael Bolton on one in every of her British TV reveals. “In your web site.”

Turning to the viewers after delivering a very toxic insult, she would ooze, “I imply that in probably the most caring approach.”

These company who emerged comparatively unscathed had the savvy to take Dame Edna at face worth and work together together with her as if she had been actual. The second he donned these rhinestone glasses, Mr. Humphries typically mentioned, Dame Edna turned actual to him too, a wholly separate regulation unto herself.

“I’m, because it had been, within the wings, and he or she’s onstage,” he defined in a 2015 interview with Australian tv. “And from time to time she says one thing extraordinarily humorous, and I stand there and assume, ‘I want I’d considered that.’”

However the actually humorous factor, Possums, is that when Mr. Humphries first introduced Dame Edna to life, he meant her to final solely every week or so. What was extra, she was meant to have been performed by the distinguished actress Zoe Caldwell.

Mr. Humphries created a string of different characters through the years, notably the boorish, bibulous Australian cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson. However it was Dame Edna, the outlandish aunt who engenders adoration and mortification in equal measure, who captivated the general public completely — although in later years, her mortification-inducing strains typically landed her, and her creator, in bother.

So absolutely did Mr. Humphries animate Edna that he was at continued pains to level out that he was neither a feminine impersonator within the typical sense nor a cross-dresser in any sense.

“Mr. Humphries, do you ever need to take your kids apart and clarify to them why you wish to put on ladies’s garments?,” an American interviewer as soon as requested him.

“If I had been an actor enjoying Hamlet,” he replied, “would I’ve to take my kids apart and say I wasn’t actually Danish?’”

By all accounts much more erudite than Dame Edna — he was an completed painter, bibliophile and artwork collector — Mr. Humphries, in a sustained act of self-protection, at all times spoke of her within the third particular person.

She did likewise. “My supervisor,” she disdainfully referred to as him. (She additionally referred to as Mr. Humphries “a money-grubbing little slug” and accused him of embezzling her fortune. He did, it have to be mentioned, money a fantastic lots of her checks.)

However as dismissive of her creator as Dame Edna was, she rallied to his assist when he very doubtless wanted her most: after years of alcoholism culminated in stays in psychiatric hospitals and a minimum of one brush with the regulation.

John Barry Humphries was born in Kew, a Melbourne suburb, on Feb. 17, 1934. His father, Eric, was a affluent builder; his mom, Louisa, was a homemaker.

From his earliest childhood in Camberwell, a extra unique suburb, he felt oppressed by the bourgeois conformism that enveloped his mother and father and their circle, and depressed by his mom’s chilly suburban propriety.

Dame Edna was a response to these forces.

“I invented Edna as a result of I hated her,” Mr. Humphries was quoted as saying in Mr. Lahr’s e book “Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilization: Backstage With Barry Humphries” (1992). “I poured out my hatred of the requirements of the little individuals of their technology.”

Dame Edna emerged when the younger Mr. Humphries, underneath the sway of Dadaism, was performing with a repertory firm primarily based on the College of Melbourne; he had dropped out of the college two years earlier than.

On lengthy bus excursions, he entertained his colleagues with the character of Mrs. Norm Everage — born Edna Could Beazley in Wagga Wagga, Australia, someday within the Thirties — an abnormal housewife who had discovered sudden acclaim after successful a nationwide competitors, the Pretty Mom Quest.

Unthinkable because it appears, Edna was dowdy then, given to mousy brown hair and pillbox hats. However she was already in full command of the arsenal of bourgeois bigotries that may be a trademark of her later self.

For a revue by the corporate in December 1955, Mr. Humphries wrote a component for Edna, earmarked for Ms. Caldwell, an Australian up to date. However when she proved too busy to oblige, he donned a gown and performed it himself. After Edna proved a success with Melbourne audiences, he carried out the character elsewhere within the nation.

By the tip of the Nineteen Fifties, hoping to make a profession as a severe actor, Mr. Humphries had moved to London, the place Edna met with little enthusiasm and was largely shelved. (She blamed Mr. Humphries ever after for her lack of early success there.)

Mr. Humphries performed Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker, within the authentic West Finish manufacturing of the musical “Oliver!” in 1960, and reprised the position when the present got here to Broadway in 1963.

However although he labored steadily throughout the ’60s, he was additionally within the fierce grip of alcoholism. Stays in psychiatric hospitals, he later mentioned, had been of no avail.

His nadir got here in 1970, when he awoke in a Melbourne gutter to search out himself underneath arrest.

With a physician’s assist, Mr. Humphries turned sober quickly afterward; he didn’t take a drink for the remainder of his life. He dusted off Dame Edna and, little by little, de-dowdified her. By the late ’70s, with movie star tradition in full throttle, she had given him worldwide renown and unremitting employment.

Edna didn’t seduce each critic. Reviewing her first New York stage present, the Off Broadway manufacturing “Housewife! Celebrity!!,” in The New York Occasions in 1977, Richard Eder referred to as it “abysmal.”

Nor did Edna’s resolute lack of political correctness at all times stand her, or Mr. Humphries, in good stead. In February 2003, writing an recommendation column as Dame Edna in Self-importance Truthful, he replied to a reader’s question about whether or not to study Spanish.

“Who speaks it that you’re actually determined to speak to?” Dame Edna’s characteristically caustic response learn. “The assistance? Your leaf blower? Examine French or German, the place there are a minimum of just a few books value studying, or, if you happen to’re American, strive English.”

A public furor ensued, led by the Mexican-born actress Salma Hayek, who appeared on the journal’s cowl that month. Self-importance Truthful discontinued Dame Edna’s column not lengthy afterward.

In an interview with The Occasions in 2004, Mr. Humphries was unrepentant.

“The individuals I offended had been minorities with no humorousness, I worry,” he mentioned. “When you must clarify the character of satire to any individual, you’re combating a dropping battle.”

Mr. Humphries drew additional ire after a 2016 interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph during which he denounced political correctness as a “new puritanism.” In the identical interview, he described males who transition to feminine as “mutilated” males, and Caitlyn Jenner specifically as “a publicity-seeking ratbag.”

Dame Edna, for her half, appeared to sail imperviously by means of. She returned to Broadway in 2004 for the well-received present “Dame Edna: Again With a Vengeance” and in 2010 with “All About Me,” a revue that additionally starred the singer and pianist Michael Feinstein.

As herself — it was she, and never Mr. Humphries, who was credited — Dame Edna performed the recurring character Claire Otoms (the title is an anagram for “a sitcom position”), an outré lawyer, on the Fox TV sequence “Ally McBeal.”

Underneath his personal title, Mr. Humphries appeared because the Nice Goblin in “The Hobbit: An Sudden Journey” (2012); because the voice of Bruce, the good white shark, in “Discovering Nemo” (2003); and in different footage.

Mr. Humphries’s books embrace the memoirs “Extra Please” (1992) and “My Life as Me” (2002) and the novel “Ladies within the Background” (1995). He was named a Commander of the British Empire in 2007.

Dame Edna additionally wrote a number of books, amongst them “Dame Edna’s Bedside Companion” (1983) and the memoir “My Beautiful Life” (1989).

Mr. Humphries’s first marriage, to Brenda Wright, led to divorce, as did his second, to Rosalind Tong, and his third, to Diane Millstead. He had two daughters, Tessa and Emily, from his marriage to Ms. Tong, and two sons, Oscar and Rupert, from his marriage to Ms. Millstead.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that his survivors embrace his spouse of 30 years, Lizzie Spender, the daughter of the British poet Stephen Spender, in addition to his kids and 10 grandchildren.

Mr. Humphries had returned to Australia late final 12 months for Christmas.

Dame Edna’s husband, Norm, a continual invalid “whose prostate,” she typically lamented, “has been hanging over me for years,” died way back. Her survivors embrace an adored son, Kenny, who designed all her robes; a much less adored son, Bruce; and a despised daughter, the wayward Valmai. (“She steals issues. Places them in her pantyhose. Significantly frozen chickens when she’s in a grocery store.”)

One other daughter, Lois, was kidnapped as an toddler by a “rogue koala,” a topic Dame Edna might convey herself to debate with interviewers solely hardly ever.

Although the kid was by no means seen once more, to the tip of her life Dame Edna by no means gave up hope she could be discovered.

“I’m trying,” she instructed NPR in 2015. “Each time I cross a eucalyptus tree I search for.”

Fixed Meheut contributed reporting.

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