Paul O’Grady, British comedian and beloved ‘Lily Savage’ TV star, dies at 67

Paul O’Grady, the British comedian who rose to fame as drag queen Lily Savage and became a beloved TV host, has died. He was 67.

The comedian’s husband, Andre Portasio, said in a statement that O’Grady died “unexpectedly but peacefully” Tuesday evening, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. O’Grady had several heart attacks in the early aughts.

“He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humor, wit and compassion,” Portasio said.

O’Grady was born in Birkenhead, England, in 1955. Once a care worker in Camden Town, O’Grady made his debut as Lily Savage in the ‘80s.

Donning a voluminous platinum blond wig, dramatic eye shadow and red lipstick, O’Grady’s Savage quickly became a staple in London’s stand-up scene, including the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Lily Savage was more than just foul-mouthed jokes and quick wit. For O’Grady, his drag queen persona was a platform to address LGBTQ rights and the AIDS crisis.

In the 1990s, O’Grady took his talents to television. As the host of “The Lily Savage Show,” the comedian welcomed a variety of guests including Elton John, who paid tribute to O’Grady on Instagram.

“Thank you for all the joy you brought into the world, Paul,” John wrote on Wednesday. “You went places nobody had gone before and we will miss you very much.”

O’Grady’s TV work included hosting stints on game shows “The Paul O’Grady Show,” “Blind Date” and “Blankety Blank.” The comedian won the entertainment performance BAFTA Award in 2005 for his self-titled talk show.

In September 2012, O’Grady began hosting ITV’s “Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs.” The series spotlighted the work of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, an animal rescue charity.

“I’ve always been mad for animals,” he told “This Morning” in 2019. “It’s all animals. I’m obsessed with them.”

In a far-ranging Q&A with the Guardian published in November 2021, O’Grady talked about the “happiest” moment of his life, his greatest fear (“finding a rat swimming in my toilet’’) and his brushes with death.

When asked how he would like to be remembered, O’Grady replied: “I don’t care, because I won’t be here.”

O’Grady is survived by Portasio, whom he married in 2017, and by a daughter from a previous relationship.