Popular theatre, cabaret and television drag performer Danny La Rue has died aged 81 after suffering several strokes in recent years and a cancer diagnosis.

A photo with Friends, Larry Grayson with Danny La Rue, Arthur Marshall and Noele Gordon.

“In a business he loves so much, Danny La Rue is a giant. He is 100 per cent professional. He is a nice guy, and if anyone can captivate an audience, Dan can.” – fellow performer, comedian and presenter, Jimmy Tarbuck.

Born Daniel Patrick Carroll in Ireland in 1927 he was the youngest of three children. Aged nine his family relocated to England, setting up home in London. Upon leaving school at 15 he began working in a shop.

Danny’s first ventures into the world of drag acts was for a Naval party in Singapore and it wasn’t long after that the name Danny La Rue was created, however he frowned upon being called a drag star, opting to be described as a ‘comic in a frock’. It was at the Irving Theatre in London where he made his first major professional appearance alongside a young Barbara Windsor, whom he remained friends with up until his death.

Some of the famous he impersonated included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Margaret Thatcher and Marlene Dietrich. He wasn’t however popular with everyone, Scottish comedian Stanley Baxter spoofed La Rue in one of his LWT spectaculars singing “what a shame, every dame sounds the same…” in reference to the suggestion all of Danny’s characters were just ‘Danny La Rue’ in different frocks.

It wasn’t long before television stardom beckoned, with cabaret-style appearances on numerous programmes including ATV’s The Frankie Howerd Show and BBC TV’s Dusty Springfield Show. It was away from the TV screens however where he had his biggest success; performing to packed houses across the country, so much so that in 1964 he opened his own nightclub in Hanover Square in London’s West End. He also made appearances on programmes such as Celebrity Squares and various chat shows – without the frocks.

Becoming part of the showbiz jet-set he became pals with many of the big stars of the day including Diana Dors, Noele Gordon and Shirley Bassey he also became a regular performer on ATV cabaret series Saturday Variety and the BBC’s old time music hall series The Good Old Days. At his peak he headed several of his own series including the popular Tonight With Danny La Rue and The Danny La Rue Show.

He continued to frequent the stage and television throughout the 1980s and 90s performing in his own shows and on television programmes such as Blackpool Bonanza and Entertainment Express. In more recent years he’d hung up the frock for TV appearances entirely opting to stick to the chat show circuit appearing on Open House, Pebble Mill, This Morning and Richard & Judy where he spoke openly for the first time about his private life – including his homosexuality.

La Rue also had a successful acting career appearing in BBC Drama Charlie’s Aunt as Lord Fancourt, Twiggs and Our Miss Fred in the lead role. He guest starred as himself in an episode of the Thames-Tiger Aspect comedy, Mr Bean. He also was honoured with three Royal Variety Performance appearances as well as many other gala specials. La Rue also released numerous singles, including an almost disco version of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. His lastest album was titled ‘I Am What I Am’.

Comedian Bob Hope described him as “the most glamorous woman in the world”. He was also notoriously generous to charities and friends. When former stage and television actress Noele Gordon became seriously ill, throughout her treatment he telephoned her daily to chat and lift her spirits – while busy working nightly in a theatre show.

Noël Coward said of Danny that he was “the most professional, most witty and most utterly charming man in the business.” Danny La Rue was made an OBE in 2002. He was, despite rumours, Best Man (not bridesmaid) at Crossroads actress Ann George’s 1975 wedding.

He stuck up for friend Barbara Windsor when an EastEnders viewer took issue with her character of Peggy over her discriminative HIV views. La Rue rebuked the criticism with the comment: “It’s called acting love, it’s not Babs [own views]”

La Rue’s spokeswoman announced that the star had died after suffering from prostate cancer:

“Danny died peacefully in his sleep just before midnight last night after a short illness,” she said.

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