How Paul O’Grady fulfilled the dying wish of a close friend he lost to AIDS

The Paul O'Grady Show

Beloved entertainer Paul O’Grady, who has died at the age of 67, once fulfilled the dying wish of a close friend.

Following the death of much-loved entertainer Paul O’Grady, many fans are remembering the star’s unapologetic self-expression, acerbic sense of humour, and unrelenting generosity – and perhaps no story about the star sums up those qualities better than when the comedian fulfilled a dying promise to a close friend.

Fellow performer Chrissie, who died of an Aids-related illness, told O’Grady that after he passed away he wanted to depart as the comedian’s drag persona Lily Savage.

According to The Mirror, O’Grady described in his autobiography Open the Cage, Murphy! how his friend, who passed away on the same day as Freddie Mercury in 1991, asked O’Grady to “dress” him in full Lily Savage drag after he died – so that’s exactly what O’Grady did.

“He looked terrible in death. His face was purple. But I have to say he looked fabulous afterwards – I wouldn’t have been a bad mortician,” O’Grady revealed to the Sunday People.

“When he first said he wanted me to lay him out, I was shocked. I mean that’s not something you do every week, is it? Then he said Joan Of Arc was in the room, witnessing our agreement.

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“I didn’t know at the time that this hallucination was a side-effect of the medication he was on, but I couldn’t very well ignore Joan of Arc.”

Paul O'Grady as Lily Savage.
Paul O’Grady as the legendary Lily Savage. (Getty)

In typical O’Grady fashion, he took on Chrissie’s request, whose real name was reportedly Danny Billington, with a signature dose of biting humour.

O’Grady wrote that while dressing Chrissie in the clothes of his drag persona “verged on farce”, he also believed that his friend would have “relished” that.

“Dressing him was possibly the most difficult bit,” he continued. “At one stage in the proceedings, as I was attempting to get his arm in the sleeve of his jacket, I ended up lying on the bed with Chrissie on top of me.

“As I lay there laughing, it occurred to me that Chrissie could be stubborn – even in death.”

The comedian also revealed that Chrissie’s family said that he had given his friend “a lovely gift”.

Paul O'Grady Lily Savage the Opening Night performance of "Cinderella" at London Palladium on December 14, 2016 in London, England.
Lily Savage helped thousands of Brits see queer representation. (David M. Benett/ Getty Images)

In his book, O’Grady also described how, at the peak of the Aids crisis and during Lily Savage’s heyday, he had become a “carer” for many more sick and dying friends.

This selflessness goes hand-in-hand with Lily’s status as pioneering LGBTQ+ icon, and queer fans have been sharing tributes to the drag persona, telling how she helped them feel queer joy at an age when they may not have even known what that was.

Alongside them, even the Royal Family have paid their respects.

O’Grady is survived by his husband Andre Portasio and his daughter Sharon, who he shared with close friend Diane Jansen.