...By Jack Sylva for TDPel Media.
Barry Humphries: Life Behind the Comedian
Barry Humphries, the creative genius behind his flamboyant on-stage personas, died at the age of 89 on Saturday.
He had a complicated family life, which was wrought with drama and conflict, but Humphries remained completely himself until the end, never losing his brilliant mind, wit and generosity of spirit.
In a statement, his family said that he was a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend to many.
Marriages and Relationships
Humphries was married four times, and he had a very bitter split from his third wife. He once frankly admitted he was not a great husband in his first three marriages because he didn’t know what to do.
He has described himself as an ‘on and off’ father. He had a very public falling out with one of his sons, Oscar, who briefly dropped his father’s surname and angrily claimed to have been cut out of his inheritance.
It was also reported that he had only recently ‘patched things up’ with his daughter Emily – who he had been estranged from for 20 years – before his death.
Humphries has linked the failures in his private life to his childhood, when he lived a suburban family life in Melbourne during the 1940s and 1950s, which was also the beginning of his comedic creations.
Humphries said his own mother battled mental health problems and often said ‘rather loudly at dinner parties, “We don’t know where Barry came from”.’
He was regarded as brilliant, but ‘odd’, which later enabled him to mercilessly satirise Melbourne’s stifling suburbia and his mother’s ways by creating Dame Edna Everage in the image of her and his aunts.
Bullied at his private boys’ schools, Camberwell Grammar and then Melbourne Grammar, Humphries’ was gifted in English and Art. He spurned maths, sport, and shirked the army cadets, earning him the nickname ‘Granny Humphries’.
Humphries had been studying philosophy and fine arts at Melbourne University, but would drop out. He served for a period in the Australian Army Reserve but was increasingly involved in the burgeoning absurdist Dada movement.
Humphries became a stage artist and married his first wife, Brenda Wright, when he was 21, in October 1955. Humphries’ star was on the rise, but his marriage on the wane, lasting less than two years and culminating in divorce in 1958.
He married his second wife, dancer Rosalind Tong in April 1959, and together they moved to England where she would become the mother of his two daughters.
In the early 1970s, Humphries made The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, a film starring singer Barry Crocker, followed by Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.
He starred in many films as an actor. In 1987, Humphries collaborated with his third wife on a film project, co-writing Les Patterson Saves the World, with Humphries playing Sir Les and Dame Edna Everage in a plot which has the two characters fighting a global bio-terror attack. Humphries spent more time in England in an effort to stay close to his youngest children.
In June 1990, Humphries married Lizzie Spender, the daughter of British poet Sir Stephen Spender and concert pianist Natasha Spender, after bonding over their mutual interest in music, literature and the arts.
The couple moved into a terrace house in London’s West Hampstead, where they have lived ever since. His sons Oscar and Rupert appeared to happily mesh with their stepmother, with both young men taking up careers in the arts.