Paul O'Grady: A truly good person remembered

Find out more about the man a nation is mourning and celebrate his memorable life.

Battersea Ambassador Paul O’Grady during a visit to Battersea Brand Hatch Centre with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on February 2, 2022 in Ash, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Paul O'Grady has died at the age of 67. (Getty Images)

Paul O'Grady's death has prompted an outpouring of love and tributes from the showbiz world and members of the public who were fortunate enough to be graced by his generous heart.

The comedian, actor and presenter - who rose to fame as drag queen alter ego Lily Savage – has died unexpectedly at the age of 67, his partner Andre Portasio announced in a statement.

Find out more about the man a nation is mourning and celebrate his memorable life.

How did he die?

Paul O'Grady and Andre Portasio attend the National Television Awards held at The O2 Arena on January 22, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Joe Maher/WireImage)
Paul O'Grady with partner Andre in 2019. (Getty Images)

O'Grady died "unexpectedly and peacefully".

Partner Andre Portasio, who he married in 2017 said: "It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.

"He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion.

"I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years."

The former 40-a-day smoker had experienced heart problems – suffering his first heart attack in 2002 aged just 47 and a second in 2006. In 2013 he was treated in hospital for heart condition angina.

He said that year: “I do count my blessings. I have had two heart attacks, and if I get to 60 that will be amazing. I don’t fear anything nowadays.

“There has to be an angel out there. They are trying to steer me out of trouble 24 hours a day.”

What was he famous for?

Paul O'Grady performing as Lily Savage, as the Wicked Queen, in Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs -at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London. TV presenter and comedian Paul O'Grady has died at the age of 67, his partner Andre Portasio has said. The TV star, also known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage, died
Paul O'Grady performing as Lily Savage in pantomime in 2004. (PA)

O'Grady rose to fame on the comedy circuit as drag queen Lily O'Grady, who he created in the 1970s.

In the 1980s he was cast as trans prostitute Roxanne in ITV police drama The Bill and became a presenter on The Big Breakfast.

He landed The Lily Savage Show on ITV in the 90s and hosted a revival of quiz show Blankety Blank.

In 2000 he began to retire Savage and started to present TV as himself – hosting The Paul O'Grady Show, Blind Date and For The Love Of Dogs, to name but a few.

He recently stepped down from DJing on BBC Radio 2 after 14 years and was due to launch a new show on Boom radio.

This year he was touring as Miss Hannigan in a new stage production of musical Annie.

His love of animals

Paul O'Grady with rescue dogs Razor a German Shepherd, Moose a Rottweiler and Dodger a Terrier at London's Battersea Park. TV presenter and comedian Paul O'Grady has died at the age of 67, his partner Andre Portasio has said. The TV star, also known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage, died
Paul O'Grady was a huge animal lover and devoted dog owner. (PA)

O'Grady was a devoted dog owner and animal lover. He famously presented his chat show with pet dogs Buster and Olga a permanent fixture on his lap and was an ambassador for Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.

Buster was a rescue dog who died in November 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer. Olga died in 2018.

He presented many TV shows about animals and highlighting the plight of orphan and abandoned animals around the world.

Watch: Paul O'Grady meet Camilla at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home

Lorraine Kelly recalled on her ITV show: "He just couldn't stop himself adopting wee dogs!"

At the time of his death he had five dogs Nancy, Arfur, Conchita, Eddie, and Sausage.

His fundraising efforts

Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, patron of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and Battersea Ambassador Paul O'Grady walk with a rescue dog during her visit to Battersea Brands Hatch Centre in Ash, Kent, Britain February 2, 2022. Stuart C. Wilson/Pool via REUTERS
Paul O'Grady meets fellow Battersea Dogs and Cats Home patron Camilal, Queen Consort, in February 2022. (Reuters)

As well as being a tireless supporter of Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, O'Grady was a generous supporter of many charitable causes.

He was also an ambassador for Save The Children, backing campaigns to help children living with HIV in South Africa and those experiencing poverty in Bangladesh and the UK.

The TV star used his fame to support many campaigns against animal cruelty including the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Cruelty Free International's campaign against beagle farm breeding and writing to the Lord Mayor of London to object to the tradition of herding sheep across London Bridge.

After a Coventry woman made headlines in 2010 for being caught on CCTV putting a cat in a wheelie bin, O'Grady pledged £5,000 to local charity The Coventry Cat Group.

The year his ITV show For The Love Of Dogs launched in 2012 donations to Battersea Cats and Dogs home surged from £3.1m to a record figure of £15.9m.

He offered strength and support to the LGBTQ+ community and backed charities supporting HIV and AIDS research, including the AIDS Memorial Campaign.

In the wake of his death many of London's gay community have remember how O'Grady, as Lily Savage, stood up to the police during a homophobic raid on The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in the 80s.

Political campaigner

O'Grady was a public supporter of the Labour Party. And he also was not afraid to publicly speak out against Conservative government policies.

In 2010 he made a rousing speech in protest at then-chancellor George Osborne's austerity policy on his light entertainment show.

He quipped: "Do you watch telly or politics you lot?" before standing up and declaring: "We should take to the streets. We should be vocal in our fight against oppression. We should let them know that we are not taking these draconian cuts lightly!

"We should fight for the rights of the elderly, of the poor and the sick!"

The speech received rapturous applause from the audience.

Acts of kindness

Susan Boyle and Paul O' Grady attend a photocall to announce a charity single for Save The Children at Sony Music on October 28, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Paul O' Grady supporting Susan Boyle at a press conference for her charity single for Save The Children. (Getty Images)

As well as tributes from his celebrity colleagues many members of the public have shared memories of the acts of kindness they experiences from O'Grady.

One Good Morning Britain viewer who lived close to him and saw him in the supermarket revealed the star personally wrote to their mother when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Another recalled O'Grady stopping to talk to them when they were homeless, revealing: "He said 'Let's get some food in that hungry bell of yours.' He took me for a meal and spent three hours with me before checking me into a hotel."

Tributes from the stars

O'Grady's has unsurprisingly prompted a flood of tributes from his celebrity pals and colleagues.

Close friend Carol Vorderman said: "Paul O'Grady. Already giving them raucous, ripping up the rulebook, mischief making, calling it out, loving hell in heaven. Paul, what are we meant to do without you?"

Fellow dog lover Amanda Holden shared: "Woken up to this sad, sad news. I loved Paul. He was brilliantly opinionated ,searingly sharp and very funny.. I loved our conversations ..I can’t quite believe it. Thoughts with Andre and their family .."

TV star Paddy McGuinness remembered: "Paul O’Grady let me stand in for him on his chat show over 15 years ago. He was always supportive, kind and just great to be around. Paul started in the pubs and working men’s clubs but finished has an icon of British TV. I’ll miss him very much. Rest in peace Paul."

Presenter Vanessa Feltz confessed: "Utterly distraught to imagine a world without beloved @paulogrady I inherited the Big Breakfast bed from him in 1996 and have loved him ever since. Wise witty kind and entirely original. We will never see his like again."

GMB's Richard Arnold recalled working with O'Grady in the 90s.

He said: "I remember I was sat on the floor one day during the run and I was threading ticket stubs.

"And all I heard was this voice go, 'You alright?' and I looked up and of course, there was this handsome man standing there but I only ever saw Paul as Lily.

 Paul O'Grady and Amanda Holden attend the Collars & Coats Gala Ball at Battersea Evolution on November 8, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)
Paul O'Grady and Amanda Holden attend the Collars & Coats Gala Ball in 2012. (Getty Images)

"And you idolised him as a gay man actually because trailblazer really doesn't do justice and then, of course, he broke into the mainstream broadcasting landscape. And the rest as we've seen, there is the history of man with glitter and wit coursing through his veins. Humour with such heart."

Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: "Paul O'Grady was a legend. Love to all who loved him."

Actor Sam West said: "Rotten news to wake up to. Paul O’Grady was a primetime drag queen, a famously kind person, a fierce critic of austerity, a brave fighter for gay rights, a great friend to animals and an effortlessly funny comedian. RIP"

Fellow comedian Les Dennis remembered: "So sad to wake to the news that Paul O’Grady has died. He was a true comedy great and his twinkly,mischievous presence will be missed by so many. RIP dear Paul."

Kevin and Perry star Kathy Burke wrote: "Woke early to hear the sad news that one of our greatest cabaret and tv entertainers has gone. Loved Lily, loved Paul. RIP"

Bond Girl and animal campaigner Britt Ekland said: "So very sad to hear about Paul O’Grady, such a big part of my 90’s in the UK. #RipPaulOgrady"

And many of his former Radio 2 collegues including Ken Bruce, Aled Jones and Simon Mayo shared their tributes on social media.

Watch: Tributes to Paul O'Grady, who has died aged 67