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‘Lily Savage’, UK star who made drag mainstream, dies at 67

The British royal family led tributes Wednesday to comedian and entertainer Paul O’Grady who made drag culture mainstream with his alter ego Lily Savage.

O’Grady, who died on Tuesday at the age of 67, went on to become a fixture on hit television shows as well as a campaigner for LGBTQ rights.

Born in the northwestern English town of Birkenhead in 1955, O’Grady began his Lily Savage act in the 1970s while holding down a day job for a London council.

He took the acerbic, wig-wearing Savage on the nightclub circuit and the act later took off with TV and radio appearances in character.

“It’s impossible to overestimate what a trailblazer he was,” said ITV breakfast show television presenter Richard Arnold.

“You idolised him as a gay man actually… and then of course he broke into the mainstream broadcasting landscape,” he said on Good Morning Britain.

A devoted animal lover, O’Grady also presented the long-running reality television series “For the Love of Dogs” set in London’s Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for stray and unwanted animals.

Queen Consort Camilla appeared in a special episode of the programme in December.

“Deeply saddened to hear of the death of Paul O’Grady, who worked closely with Her Majesty in support of Battersea, providing lots of laughter and many waggy-tailed memories,” the British Royal Family twitter account tweeted along with a picture of Camilla and the star.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said O’Grady “wasn’t just a brilliant comedian and broadcast personality but a much admired campaigner for LGBT+ equality and animal rights.”

Tatchell said O’Grady had been due to lead a forthcoming campaign for his foundation seeking an apology from UK police for “their historic persecution of the LGBT+ community”.

O’Grady died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening, his partner Andre Portasio said.

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

The head of the ITV television network, for whom he presented many programmes in a decades-long career, paid tribute to a “huge inimitable talent”.

O’Grady won numerous accolades including a TV Bafta. He was honoured by the late Queen Elizabeth II for services to entertainment in 2008.

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