jakub | April 22, 2023

Barry Humphries, Australian Comedian Behind the Character “Dame Edna,” Dies at 89


Barry Humphries, Australian Comedian Behind the Character “Dame Edna,” Dies at 89

Mr. Humphries won the Special Tony Award for a Live Theatrical Event in 2000 for his Broadway comedy special, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour.

Barry Humphries, the Australian comedian and satirist behind the beloved character of “Dame Edna,” passed away at a Sydney hospital following complications from a hip surgery in March. He was 89 years old. 

Over the course of his seven-decade-long career, Mr. Humphries created and performed as several satirical characters in addition to his notorious “Dame Edna Everage,” such as “Sir Les Patterson,” “Sandy Stone,” “Barry McKenzie,” and many more. His characters largely served as social commentary on Australian culture.

Born in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia on February 17, 1934 to Eric and Louisa Humphries, his father was a construction manager and his mother maintained a comfortable suburban home. From a very early age, Mr. Humphries found joy in performing and playing dress-up in his family's garden, earning the nickname “Sunny Sam” for his cheerful disposition. Throughout his early life, he was an avid reader, painter, and theatre fan. As he reached his teen years, he found himself dismayed by the lack of interest in art and creativity within the mundane constraints of suburban life. It was this observation that would later inspire the character of “Dame Edna,” who originally was a satirical representation of Australian suburban housewives, but became more outlandish in her fashion and personality throughout the years.

Mr. Humphries first played Dame Edna at comedy clubs, and the character made her first film appearance in the Australian indie film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972). The character made numerous appearances on television, including on Saturday Night Live in 1976. 

But it was on stage where Mr. Humphries received the most acclaim. He made numerous stage appearances, including his role in the original Broadway company of Oliver! as Mr. Sowerberry. Mr. Humphries brought his comedy special Dame Edna: The Royal Tour to Broadway in October 1999, opening at the Booth Theatre and running through July 2000. For this, he received the Special Tony Award for a Live Theatrical Event at the 54th Annual Tony Awards.

He returned to Broadway in 2004 with Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance, and brought the character back in 2010 with All About Me, which also featured original songs co-written with Michael Feinstein.

In addition to his stage and screen success, Mr. Humphries penned many books throughout this career, including two autobiographies (My Life As Me and More Please).

Mr. Humphries cared deeply about the importance of comedy, both in its ability to comment on the world, and in the simple but profound impact of bringing laughter to the world. In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, he said: “Laughter is a marvelous thing for the laugher and the person who induces the laugh…it's therapeutic. It's like some sort of cosmic forgiveness. I always liked the thought that there were people in the world devoted to making others laugh.”

Mr. Humphries is survived by his wife Lizzie Spender and his four children.

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