Barry Humphries remembered as an ‘interstellar’ talent at Sydney Opera House memorial service | Barry Humphries

Barry Humphries has been remembered as an “interstellar” talent by everyone from royalty to giants of the entertainment industry at a state memorial service at the Sydney Opera House.

In a written statement, King Charles III described the comedian as a cultured and erudite man who “poked and prodded us, exposed us to tensions, punctured pomposity, surfaced insecurities, but most of all made us laugh at ourselves”.

Arts minister Tony Bourke reads a letter from King Charles. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

The statement, which was read by arts minister, Tony Burke, said he suspected everyone who had appeared on stage with Humphries’ character, Dame Edna, had experienced a “unique sensation where fear and fun combined”.

“Those who tried to stand on their dignity soon lost their footing. Those who wondered whether Australia’s housewife superstar might this time just go too far were always proved right,” the statement said.

“Like so many, I have been deeply saddened by his passing. Life really won’t be the same without him. May our gladiolus bloom in celebration of his memory.”

Tessa Humphries speaking at the service
Barry Humphries’ daughter, Tessa Humphries, speaking at the service. Photograph: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Elton John described Humphries as “one of the funniest people in the world” who was also kind and generous. British comedians Jimmy Carr, Rob Brydon and David Walliams remembered his as a genius who inspired a new breed of comedy.

“He was the best,” Brydon said. “He was the master. There is nobody better than Barry Humphries and I was honoured to call him a friend. I salute his talent, which was just interstellar.”

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The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, remembered Humphries as someone who “brought such joy to every part of Australia” and united people.

“No matter how unruly his creations became, it was Barry who had the final word,” Albanese said. “And what a word it was. Barry had the ultimate power, a power he exercised with the glee that never knew any bounds.”

Humphries’ son, Rupert, spoke of a childhood filled with laughter, with much of it spent in theatres, concert halls and TV studios while he followed his father on tour.

“Before each show started, I would sit in his dressing room as he applied makeup, wigs and fake teeth and then watch him either step into a sequined frock or a totally disturbing fat suit that he wore for [his character] Les, with its huge appendage attached,” Rupert said.

Rupert Humphries speaking on stage
Barry Humphries’ son, Rupert Humphries, pays tribute to his father. Photograph: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

“Most nights my brother and I would sit on the back row of an auditorium, praying, always praying that this wasn’t going to be the show where he went too far and said something completely unforgivable.

“But he never did. He loved to torment his audiences but it was from a place of love.”

There was only a fleeting and veiled mention of the controversy that surrounded Humphries, particularly later in his career, with host Richard Wilkins acknowledging the comedian put Australia on the cultural map but not in a way that everyone approved.

Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage
Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/EPA

In a recorded video message, Rupert Murdoch remembered Humphries as someone whose creativity and intellect could never be dulled, nor “strangled” by political correctness.

“As you say, when people laugh at me, they are not laughing in the way they normally would be for a comedian,” Murdoch said. “They are laughing with relief because the truth has been spoken, and political correctness has not strangled this particular giga star.”

The Opera House sail will be lit up in a tribute to Humphries on Friday night.

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