Dame Edna alter ego Barry Humphries dies at 89

Tony Award-winning comedian Barry Humphries, internationally renowned for his garish stage persona Dame Edna Everage, a condescending and thinly-veiled snob, died Saturday.

Humphries was 89.

Humphries died at a Sydney hospital after being readmitted Wednesday following surgery on his hip last month, his family confirmed with the Associated Press.

“He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit,” his family said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Humphries reportedly fell in February and had a hip replacement. In March, he had hip surgery, but earlier this week, he returned to the hospital due to complications.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese posted about Humphries’ death on Twitter.

“For 89 years, Barry Humphries entertained us through a galaxy of personas, from Dame Edna to Sandy Stone. But the brightest star in that galaxy was always Barry. A great wit, satirist, writer, and an absolute one-of-kind, he was both gifted and a gift.”

Edna, who was enormously popular with the gay community, was best known for her catchphrase, “Hello, Possums!,” her lavender hair, and rhinestone glasses.

Humphries won a Tony Award in 2000 for his Broadway show “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour.”

The character began as a dowdy Mrs. Norm Everage, who first appeared on stage in Humphries’ hometown of Melbourne in the mid 1950s.

“She reflected a postwar suburban inertia and cultural blandness that Humphries found stifling,” AP said.

Edna is one of Humphries’ several enduring characters, including Sir Les Patterson, an ever-drunk, disheveled, and lecherous Australian cultural attache.

Patterson mirrored a perception of Australia as a Western cultural wasteland that drove Humphries along with many leading Australian intellectuals to London, AP said.

Humphries was also a controversial figure. In 2003 Vanity Fair advice column, he replied to a reader’s question about learning Spanish with, “Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to?” Edna added, “The help? Your leaf blower? Study French or German, where there are at least a few books worth reading, or, if you’re American, try English.”

Selma Hayek led a backlash against the racist comments.

Humphries continued to speak against what he perceived as the problems with “political correctness.”

He called it a “new puritanism” and in an interview with the Telegraph in 2016 said that trans women were “mutilated men.” He later also described being transgender as a “fashion.”

The comedian said his comments had been taken out of context, according to CNN.

Actor Alan Cumming, a long-time fan of Humphries, posted a photo on his Instagram page of the two of them while Cummings filmed “X2: X-Men United” in Vancouver in 2002. Humphries was in the city as part of his Dame Edna tour.

“”He was a towering talent, a true Dadaist, and a committed provocateur,” Cumming wrote. “Of course he offended, and latterly wasn’t reding the room as expertly as he had for so many decades, but he was a comedy genius and Australia has lost several of her finest sons (and one superstar daughter) today.” 

John Barry Humphries was born in Melbourne on Feb. 17, 1934.

In the 1960s, before Dame Edna’s rise to stardom, Humphries appeared in several West End and Broadway productions.

In the 1970s, Dame Edna became a huge hit when Humphries brought his talents to London.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Humphries appeared on talk shows, specials and in films, as Dame Edna and his other alter-egos Les Patterson and Sandy Stone, including the British comedy show, “The Dame Edna Experience,” in 1987.

In the U.S., Dame Edna was a smashing success.

The New York Times described her as “A stiletto-heeled, stiletto-tongued persona who might well have been the spawn of a ménage à quatre involving Oscar Wilde, Salvador Dalí, Auntie Mame and Miss Piggy, Dame Edna was not so much a character as a cultural phenomenon, a force of nature trafficking in wicked, sequined commentary on the nature of fame.”

She was a wildly popular guest on numerous talk shows and toured the country with her one-woman show.

Dame Edna also had her own mock celebrity talk show on NBC in the early 1990s called “Dame Edna’s Hollywood.”

Humphries was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to theater in 1982. Then in 2007, the Queen made him a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the arts.

Humphries wrote several books, novels, autobiographies, and plays, and he painted.

In 2022, Humphries toured the U.K. for “The Man Behind the Mask,” outside the character.

Humphries is survived by his wife, Lizzie Spender; four children; and 10 grandchildren.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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