Actress Anne Phelan, best known for playing top dog Myra Desmond on Prisoner, has died at the age of 75, her agent and former co-stars have confirmed.
The veteran Aussie star shot to fame with her role in the soap, while also starring as Nanna Dot in Winners & Losers and enjoying roles in everything from Bellbird and Blue Heelers to Neighbours. She has now been remembered in a stream of tributes from her former co-stars, friends and fans.
TV writer Dan Bennett, who worked with Phelan on Winners and Losers, said on Twitter: “So sad at the passing of the wonderful Anne Phelan. When she joined us on ‘Winners and Losers’ she took the role and ran with it, bringing so much more to the character than we could ever have imagined. She was one of a kind. Vale.”
And Will Conyers, who worked with Anne as her vocal coach, wrote on Facebook: “I had the good fortune to direct and musically direct Anne on many an occasion. She was also a vocal student of mine on and off over many years.
“It was an honour to play for her Equity Lifetime Achievement and I will miss her dreadfully. The theatre industry has lost one of it’s true cornerstones. A truly true blue Australian star. Our loss, Heaven’s gain.”
And confirming the sad news to Starts at 60, Marea Jablonksi, director of talent agency BGM who represented Phelan for almost 50 years, said: “Sadly, Anne Phelan passed away yesterday evening. She will be greatly missed by her family, friends and colleagues.” She added to the Sydney Morning Herald: “It was only recently that her health took a very sudden turn for the worst.”
Meanwhile, Studio 10 star Denise Scott tweeted: “Oh Annie Phelan how I loved having you for a mother in law in Winners and Losers. Brilliant on set, outrageous off set. RIP Annie. Lots of love xx.”
Scott added: “Somehow RIP seems inappropriate for the outrageous Annie Phelan. A brilliant actress. A wonderful (and so rude!!) colleague. Such sad news. Keep partying Anne xx.”
“Anne was simply one of the best humans,” said MEAA President Chloe Dallimore. “She was a lauded actor for her incredible body of work in our industry, but most importantly, a woman with a huge zest for life and a deep love for her union.”
Phelan received two Television Society of Australia Awards for her role as Desmond on Prisoner. She also won an AFI Award for best actress in 2000 for her role in ABC mini-series Something in the Air.
“She had an incredible ability to create very true characters – you just believed she was that person,” Jablonksi added. “There was no trickery to her work, it was just true and beautiful, and she created a whole lot of archetypal Aussie characters.”
Phelan was also a passionate activist and worked as an advocate for refugees and women living with HIV and AIDS. It was that incredible work, plus her acting career, that earned her a Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2007 Queens Birthday Honours List. A listing at the time stated that the award was for “service to the arts as an actress, and to the community, particularly through support for women living with the HIV virus and for asylum seekers and refugees”.