Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Danny La Rue dies

At the peak of his career in the 1970s Danny La Rue was possibly the best paid & almost certainly the most unlikely superstar in Britain. Almost 7ft tall in his stilettos & feathered headdress, the devout Irish Catholic with a reassuringly blokey delivery & spellbinding stage presence turned cross-dressing from a subversive cabaret turn into mainstream family entertainment. His death on Sunday night, after a short struggle with cancer, brings to an end an 81-year saga as densely packed with emotional climaxes, both uplifting and tragic, as any of the variety. Tributes from his many showbusiness friends yesterday testified to his unique position in British life. During a 60-year career, most of it spent in sequins and preposterous frocks, La Rue ran a fashionable Mayfair nightclub in the 1960s that included Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Princess Margaret and Elizabeth Taylor among the guests. He was named Entertainer of the Decade for the 1970s, reinvented his bawdy cabaret act for a mass TV audience, became Britain’s favourite pantomime dame and was appointed OBE in 2002. He was also tricked out of his fortune on a dodgy property venture, then fought back from bankruptcy, depression and the shattering deaths of two lovers to perform into his late seventies, even as his gentle style drifted farther and farther out of fashion. Bob Hope called La Rue “the most glamorous woman in the world” but Barbara Windsor, a friend for more than 50 years, remembered a steelier side to him last night, describing how he once jumped off stage “in full drag” and punched a man who had heckled her during a show. Windsor said that La Rue’s sense of humour was still intact when she last saw him three weeks ago. “He got himself all nice for me. He kept having a little snooze and coming back and saying, ‘You won’t go, will you?’ ” But when she told him he looked handsome, his eyes lit up and he asked her if she fancied a bit. “Those were the last words he ever said to me.”
Bruce Forsyth said: “He was a great showman and his nightclub in London was the place to go when you were having a special night out. All the people who worked with him over the years will be very sad.” Nica Burns, the theatre owner and adminstrator of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, hailed him as “the last link between the world of music hall and today”. She said: “There wasn’t a medium where he didn’t work. Danny could not have been more successful at what he did.” Despite his flamboyant stage persona, La Rue used to hope that his own death would be an undramatic affair, neatly fitted around his busy touring schedule. “I want to make an agreement with Him,” he once said. “One day, I would just like to walk off the stage and take the frock off and go to sleep. I think that would be nice.” A stroke in 2006 put paid to that by limiting his public outings. His last stage performance was without a frock. He had lived in Kent since 2005 at the home of Annie Galbraith, his dress fitter for nearly 30 years, who took him in when financial problems threatened to overwhelm him. Last night she said: “Dear Danny spread joy everywhere. I am so honoured to have met him in my path through life.”

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