How Barry Humphries conquered the world - as fears held for comedian (2023)

Barry Humphries' most famous creation remains Dame Edna Everage but for many fans the character who began life as a Melbourne housewife in 1955 is not even his best work.

While Edna's lilac permed hair, outlandish cat-eye glasses and garish frocks have become internationally famous over the decades, Humphries has more than one act in his repertoire.

Some cite as their personal favourite the vulgar, alcoholic 'cultural attache' Sir Les Patterson with his mottled face, food-spattered wardrobe and stained tombstone teeth.

Others prefer grandfatherly Sandy Stone, settled back in his chair and dressing gown, delivering gentle monologues which rather than raise laughter could reduce audiences to tears.

But Humphries is even more than the sum of those comic inventions: a successful musical theatre actor, talented landscape painter, film producer, author and scriptwriter.

Barry Humphries, who is in a Sydney hospital suffering complications after hip surgery, has been entertaining Australians for seven decades and has performed on the international stage since the 1960s. He is pictured with fourth wife Lizzie Spender in London in 2016

Away from the spotlight the noted raconteur is a voracious reader and rare book collector, husband of 23 years to fourth wife Lizzie Spender and father of four children.

News the national treasure, now 89 and having recently undergone hip surgery, has been taken to hospital has Australians imagining life without Edna.

One of the old friends Humphries caught up with recently after returning to Sydney in December was the acclaimed artist John Olsen, who died on April 11 aged 95.

(Video) Heroes of Comedy: Barry Humphries (Uncut Version)

As entertainment reporter Peter Ford put it on Wednesday: 'Things are tough, and all we can do at this point in time is give a big shoutout to Barry Humphries and say Australia loves you and we will always be grateful for everything you have given us.'

Humphries recently thanked a gossip columnist for not calling him 'an icon' but his achievements make that difficult.He has been a fixture of the local entertainment scene for seven decades and is also a genuine international star.

Among Humphries' notable friends have been comedian Spike Milligan and novelist and former politician Jeffrey Archer. He hascharmed most of the British Royal Family from the Queen Mother to King Charles III and Princess Diana.

Humphries' most famous creation is Dame Edna Everage who began life as Melbourne housewife Mrs Edna Everage in a 1955 skit. The self-proclaimed 'gigastar' is pictured meeting the future Kings Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2010

Biographer Anne Pender wrote in 2010 that Humphries was both 'the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin' and 'the most significant theatrical figure of our time'.

As Dame Edna he was one of British talk show host Michael Parkinson's most popular regular guests and the gladioli-clutching matron even featured on the US comedy drama Ally McBeal.

Humphries tripped on a rug while reaching for a book in February and underwent surgery at St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst and has been readmitted there now with family including Spender by his side.

In late March, Humphries told Nine Entertainment's Andrew Hornery he expected to be back in good shape within weeks.

'I have to get back on my feet,' he said then. 'I'm going back on tour later this year.The result of my broken hip means I now have a titanium hip... you can call me "Bionic Bazza".'

(Video) Barry Humphries' most memorable moments | 60 Minutes Australia

Unlike Edna, who has claimed to suffer from Asperger syndrome, bipolar, gluten intolerance and attention deficit disorder, Humphries had appeared to be in relatively good health.

Like his late mate, the British comedian Peter Cook, Humphries was a raging alcoholic as a young man but gave up the drink after an epic binge in the early 1970s when he was bashed and found unconscious in a gutter.

Humphries recently thanked a gossip columnist for not calling him 'an icon' but his achievements make that difficult. He has been a fixture of the local entertainment scene for seven decades and is also a genuine international star. He is pictured with Liza Minnelli

John Barry Humphries, AO, CBE, was born in the Melbourne suburb Kew in 1934, to construction manager Eric Humphries and his wife Louisa.The family was well off and Barry was raised in Camberwell, one of the city's new garden suburbs.

Young Barry, nicknamed 'Sunny Sam' by his parents, was indulged with whatever material things he wanted but spent much of his time alone playing dress-ups in the backyard.

Humphries once said he was spoiled to have a whole box of clothes - 'Red Indian, sailor suit, Chinese costume' which he would don to 'disguise myself as different characters.'

'I also found that entertaining people gave me a great feeling of release, making people laugh was a very good way of befriending them,' he said. 'People couldn't hit you if they were laughing.'

In his teens Humphries began rebelling against the restrictions of 1940s suburban life in Melbourne and became increasingly artistic, to his parents' annoyance.

The first substantial character he invented was the dandy Dr Aaron Azimuth, donning a black cloak, black homburg hat and applying mascara.

(Video) Barry Humphries R.I.P. Bafta Awards 1985 (VERY FUNNY)

While Dame Edna Everage is Humphries best-known character some fans prefer Sir Les Patterson, the uncouth slob and lecherous drunk. Humphries struggled with the bottle but gave up alcohol in the early 1970s after he was bashed during a particularly bad binge

At Melbourne Grammar School Humphries shunned sport and excelled in English and art. He spent two years studying law at the University of Melbourne but did not graduate. Instead, he became an exponent of the Dada absurdist art movement.

An exhibit he called 'Pus in Boots" consisted of filling a pair of Wellington boots with custard; a pretend pesticide Humphries dubbed 'Platytox' was promoted as being effective in targeting the platypus.

In one public prank, Humphries would dress as a Frenchman and board a tram after an accomplice pretending to be a blind man got on. The showman would push past his collaborator, kicking him in the shins and yelling, 'Get out of my way, you disgusting blind person'.

Humphries' most famous creation first emerged as plain Mrs Edna Everage in a sketch performed at Melbourne University's Union Theatre in December 1955.

His intention was to lampoon the staid lives and standards of his parents' generation; Edna could be acid-tongued and condescending but always remained likeable.

Over coming years she would progress from Moonee Ponds mother to 'Housewife and Superstar', 'Megastar' and 'Gigastar', making her 'Hello Possums!' greeting a trademark.

(Video) The Great Dame - Ray Martin interviews Barry Humphries | 60 Minutes Australia

Humphries came up with Edna Everage to lampoon the staid lives and standards of his parents' generation. She could be acid-tongued and condescending. Humphries is pictured with the late Princess Diana at a royal charity gala performance of Back With A Vengeance in 1987

Humphries made his London stage debut in The Demon Barger in 1959 and went on to appear in several productions of Oliver!. He lived and worked in London throughout the 1960s.

Humphries returned to Australia in the 1970s and with producer Phillip Adams and director Bruce Beresford he created The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, which became the country's most successful locally-made film.

His one-man stage shows, usually built around Edna, captured further attention with tours of England, first in 1976, and eventually the United States in 1998.

Humphries' American breakthrough led to a writing a satirical column for Vanity Fair magazine and a television role as eccentric lawyer Claire Otoms opposite Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal.

In 2007, Melbourne renamed Brown Alley in the central business district Dame Edna Place and the same year Humphries was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to entertainment.

Humphries has appeared in the Beethoven film biography Immortal Beloved,Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as well as voicing Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo.

He has written books including Barry Humphries' Treasury of Australian Kitsch, the novel Women in the Background and My Life, an autobiography.

As Edna he penned Dame Edna's Coffee Table Book: A Guide to Gracious Living and the Finer Things in Life by One of the First Ladies of World Theatre.

Humphries announced a farewell tour in 2012 but returned to the stage in 2019 with Dame Edna: My Gorgeous Life.Last year he performed in London with Man Behind The Mask. Details of his planned tour later this year are yet to be announced.

Humphries announced a farewell tour in 2012 but returned to the stage in 2019 with Dame Edna: My Gorgeous Life. Last year he performed in London with Man Behind The Mask. Humphries, pictured above with violinist Andre Rieu, plans to tour later this year

(Video) Barry Humphries Causes Ruth Langsford to Shed a Tear | This Morning


1. Heroes of Comedy: Barry Humphries (Cut Version)
2. The Man Inside Dame Edna
3. Barry Humphries, the talent behind Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson | One Plus One | ABC News
(ABC News (Australia))
4. Q&A 2012- Episode 17
(Daniel Blanket)
5. Clive James interview 1987 4/4 Peter Cook, Barry Humphries
6. Peter Cook & Barry Humphries interview - The Late Clive James (1987)
(video dump)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Zonia Mosciski DO

Last Updated: 02/04/2023

Views: 5860

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Zonia Mosciski DO

Birthday: 1996-05-16

Address: Suite 228 919 Deana Ford, Lake Meridithberg, NE 60017-4257

Phone: +2613987384138

Job: Chief Retail Officer

Hobby: Tai chi, Dowsing, Poi, Letterboxing, Watching movies, Video gaming, Singing

Introduction: My name is Zonia Mosciski DO, I am a enchanting, joyous, lovely, successful, hilarious, tender, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.