Barry Humphries, Australian comedian who created Dame Edna, dies at 89

Barry Humphries, an Australian comedian who created and portrayed the lilac-haired, cat-eyed Dame Edna Everage, a character who began in the 1950s as a satire on suburbia and evolved into a global goddess of bling and of irreverence who performed for British royalty and on Broadway stages, has died in a Sydney hospital aged 89.

The death was confirmed by the hospital on April 22, the Associated Press reported, but no further details were immediately provided. Mr Humphries was hospitalized with complications following hip surgery.

The character of Dame Edna was so complete that the character was better known than her creator. Edna’s world grew to have its own full story – complete with a published “autobiography” – which included memories of a late husband, Sir Norman Everage, and a baby girl taken by a “rogue koala” but who escaped to become a nun. Everything is made up, of course.

But it was the bubbly, sassy and slightly condescending Lady Edna, not the quietly pensive Mr. Humphries, that the crowds came to see and were greeted with the signature greeting: “Hello, Possums!”

The character became better known to American audiences through outrageous talk shows beginning in the late 1980s with “The Dame Edna Experience”, where Edna mocked and teased guests such as actor Charlton Heston, who s called Chuck.

On another show, “Dame Edna’s Hollywood” (1991-1993), she went in the span of two minutes from calling comedian Robin Williams a “kaleidoscopic nightmare” to dancing to the tune of “Act Naturally” being played by a big band led by Ringo Starr.

In 1999, Dame Edna opened at the Booth Theater on Broadway with her show “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour,” in which she skewered just about everyone and everything en route to a Tony Award. “The show is so funny it caused a friend’s asthma (‘She made me wheeze’),” critic Richard Laermer wrote in The Washington Post.

Dame Edna appeared at the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, singing a song via video link as 1,000 “Commonwealth Ladies” waved Edna’s signature flower, the gladiolus, or “gladdies” as she was calling.

Dame Edna took center stage so much that it was an event in itself when Mr Humphries appeared as himself. An interviewer for Australia’s ’60 Minutes’ wanted to know when Mr Humphries ended and Dame Edna started.

“When does Lady Edna become Lady Edna?” He asked. “When she puts…”

“Glasses,” Mr. Humphries cut in.

“Glasses,” Mr. Humphries said. “Glasses make the character.”

Maybe only Elton John got bigger and bolder in eyewear. Dame Edna, however, did not play with different styles. It was still the high-powered glitter cat’s eye.

The idea was inspired by silent-film-era actress Stephanie Deste, an Australian who in the 1920s was known for her handmade eyeglass frames with diamond-studded wings. The glasses became part of Dame Edna’s character transition in the 1960s from mousy Melbourne housewife to, as Mr Humphries described it, “sacred swami-monster singer”.

Mr. Humphries has never worn glasses in public.

This is a developing story.

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