Barry Humphries, an Australian comedian who created and embodied the lilac-coiffed, cat eye-bespectacled Dame Edna Everage, a character that began in the 1950s as a satire on suburbia and evolved into a global goddess of bling and irreverence who performed for British royalty and on Broadway stages, has died in a Sydney hospital at 89.
Barry Humphries, Australian comedian who created Dame Edna, dies at 89
The death was confirmed by the hospital on April 22, the Associated Press reported, but no other details were immediately provided. Mr. Humphries was hospitalized for complications after hip surgery.
The persona of Dame Edna was so complete that the character was better known than its creator. Edna’s world grew to have its own complete backstory — with a published “autobiography”— that included remembrances of a dead husband, Sir Norman Everage, and an infant daughter taken by a “rogue koala” but who escaped to become a nun. It’s all made up, of course.
But it was the sparkly, sassy and slightly condescending Dame Edna, not the quietly thoughtful Mr. Humphries, whom crowds came out to see and be welcomed with the signature greeting: “Hello, Possums!”
The character became best known to American audiences through outrageous talk shows beginning in the late 1980s with “The Dame Edna Experience,” where Edna would playfully mock and tease guests such as the actor Charlton Heston, who was called Chuck.
In another show, “Dame Edna’s Hollywood” (1991—1993), she went in the span of two minutes from calling the comic Robin Williams a “kaleidoscopic nightmare” to dancing to the tune of “Act Naturally” played by a big band led by Ringo Starr.
In 1999, Dame Edna opened at Broadway’s Booth Theater with her show “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour,” in which she skewered pretty much everyone and everything, on her way to a Tony Award. “The show is so funny that it brought on a friend’s asthma (“She made me wheeze”),” the reviewer Richard Laermer wrote in The Washington Post.
Dame Edna appeared at the 2006 Closing Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, belting out a song over video link while 1,000 “Commonwealth Dames” waved Edna’s signature flower, the gladiola, or “gladdies” as she called them.
Dame Edna so thoroughly took the spotlight that it was an event in itself when Mr. Humphries emerged as himself. An interviewer on Australia’s “60 Minutes” wanted to know when Mr. Humphries ended and Dame Edna began.
“When does Dame Edna become Dame Edna?” he asked. “When she puts …”
“The glasses on,” Mr. Humphries cut in.
“Glasses,” said Mr. Humphries. “The glasses make the character.”
Maybe only Elton John has gone bigger and bolder in eyewear. Dame Edna, however, didn’t play with various styles. It was always the cat eye in high-wattage spangle.
The idea was inspired by the silent-film-era actress Stephanie Deste, an Australian who in the 1920s was known for her handmade eyeglass frames with diamante-studded wings. The glasses became part of the transition of the Dame Edna character in the 1960s from mousy Melbourne housewife to, as Mr. Humphries described, “chanteuse swami-monstre sacre.”
Mr. Humphries never wore glasses in public.
This is a developing story.