Comedian Barry Humphries to bring curtains down on iconic ‘Dame Edna’

By Amy Coopes, AFP

SYDNEY–Australian comedian Barry Humphries said Sunday he would retire iconic character Dame Edna Everage, a gaudy lilac-haired parody of suburbia, because he felt a “bit senior” and was ready to move on. Everage and the lecherous and boorish Sir Les Patterson are Humphries’ best-known characters, but the veteran comedian, 78, said his current tour would be their last stage outing. “Edna will crop up on television I guess but not in a live show,” Humphries told Australia’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “The fact of the matter is that I’m beginning to feel a bit senior. “It’s the best aerobics you could do, leaping around on stage, but it’s grueling when there are other things to do.” Everage took to Australian television Sunday night to personally confirm her farewell tour. “I’m not leaving the stage, you’ll never drag me off the stage, but to do these productions, I couldn’t keep it up,” she said. “I’ve got so many international obligations, I have the prostate Olympics coming up — that was my own idea — and I’m doing a lot of work for my pet charity now, the deviated septum.” Humphries’ turns as Everage and Patterson saw him achieve international renown, particularly in Britain where he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2007 for services to entertainment. He also won a special Tony award for a live theatrical event in 2000, “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour” through North America.

Everage was first conceived when Humphries toured southern Australia as a young actor in the 1950s and evolved from drab housewife to a self-proclaimed “gigastar” parody of celebrity best known for her catchphrase “Hello Possums.” She went on to host her own 1980s talk show, “The Dame Edna Experience,” which attracted an array of luminaries including Sean Connery, Charlton Heston, Mel Gibson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dusty Springfield and Chubby Checker. Her 1990s talk shows, “Dr Dame Edna Kisses It Better” and “The Dame Edna Treatment” were just as star-studded, with guests ranging from actors Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen to Shane Warne and Ivana Trump. Sporting her trademark horn-rimmed glasses and wisteria curls, Everage even had a cameo as Claire Otoms — an anagram of “A Sitcom Role” — in American TV series Ally McBeal.

Vanity Fair received death threats after she penned a satirical column about learning Spanish which drew the ire of actress Salma Hayek, prompting the magazine to publish a full-page apology to the Hispanic community. Everage also starred in the closing ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, held in her home town of Melbourne, and she is seen as one of the most enduring comic figures of modern times The coarse and vulgar Patterson came later, first appearing in a Humphries stage show in 1974 and evolving into a caricature of Australian diplomats abroad at a performance in Hong Kong. Best known for his offensive behavior, which includes belching, flatulence and nose-picking, the buck-toothed, grubby “late cultural attache to the Court of St James” also has a devoted following. Announcing that his current tour of Australia would be his last live stage show, Humphries — who is also a prolific author — said he had a “contract to write another book” and there were “places I want to go, things I want to do.” He recalled seeing performers as a child who had “outlived their shelf life” and about whom it was said “you should have seen him when he was funny.” “I want to avoid that being said about me and know that I can’t keep doing it,” Humphries said.