Backlash erupts as host of Barry Humphries’ state memorial revealed

Nov 20, 2023
Humphries, who passed away at the age of 89 on April 22, will be commemorated at a public memorial on December 15 at the Sydney Opera House. Source: Getty Images.

The announcement that entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins will be the Master of Ceremonies at Barry Humphries’ state memorial has reportedly ignited a storm of outrage from the late icon’s family and friends.

Humphries, who passed away at the age of 89 on April 22, will be commemorated at a public memorial on December 15 at the Sydney Opera House, with Nine’s veteran entertainment reporter, Wilkins, named as the host.

According to an exclusive from Sydney Confidential, the revelation of Wilkins’ participation in the ceremony has not sat well with Humphries’ close circle with their attendance now in question.

“Like a number of Barry’s friends, I was amazed and aghast that Channel 9 personality Richard Wilkins was chosen to be the MC at this important event, Barry’s memorial,” a longtime friend of Humphries, Professor Ross Fitzgerald, told the publication.

“I am also very puzzled how this happened … I find it very hard to believe that members of the family and the children for example would have approved this.

“It is important for me to stress, Richard Wilkins seems to be a nice bloke, but like a number of Barry’s friends, he seems to us and to me and to [Barry’s daughter] Emily to be an inappropriate choice.”

Reports indicate that although Humphries’ widow, Lizzie Spender, played a role in organising the service, Humphries’ daughter Emily was not consulted and will be choosing not to attend.

Despite the opposition to Wilkins’ participation in the memorial, the television stalwart declared his unwavering decision to remain in the role of MC.

“I had the enormous pleasure of spending a great deal of personal and professional time with Barry over many decades… and developed profound love and respect for him,” Wilkins said in a statement.

“I was honoured and humbled to be asked by Barry’s family to perform the role of MC at his State Memorial.”

Born on February 17, 1934, Humphries was a celebrated figure in the entertainment industry, known for his comedic, satirical, and artistic abilities, as well as his remarkable character acting. His most beloved personas were Dame Edna Everage, a Melbourne housewife who rose to superstardom, and Sir Les Patterson, Australia’s vulgar cultural attaché to the Court of St. James’s.

Moreover, Humphries was a successful film producer, scriptwriter, and star of London’s West End musical theater scene. He was also a renowned landscape painter and an award-winning author. In fact, his biographer, Anne Pender, declared him the most significant comedian since Charlie Chaplin in 2010.

Humphries’ characters, especially Dame Edna Everage, received worldwide recognition, and he made appearances in several movies, stage productions, and TV shows.

For his contributions to the entertainment industry, Humphries received numerous awards and honors, including a Special Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, a Theatre World Award, and an Outer Critics’ Circle Award in 2000. In 2002, the Australian National Portrait Gallery dedicated its first large-scale biographical exhibit to him, and the following year, he lent his voice to Bruce the Shark in the animated film Finding Nemo.

Humphries also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Melbourne and wrote two autobiographies, More Please (1992) and My Life as Me (2002).

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