Sir Elton John and It’s A Sin creator Russell T Davies have paid tribute to Paul O’Grady – remembering him as “ferocious in the fight against Aids” – after his death aged 67.
The TV and radio presenter died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening, a statement shared with the PA news agency via a representative said.
Queer As Folk creator Davies said on Instagram: “The saddest news. What a star. What a lovely man.
“He was ferocious in the fight against AIDS; he made everyone love drag; he once asked me if he could be in Doctor Who, “I just want to wear a white coat and carry a clipboard and walk down a corridor saying ‘I think it’s alive, Doctor.’”
“When asked in 2021 if he despised anyone, he said, ‘Every single stinking member of this lying, self-serving government.’ There will never be anyone like him.”
Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin followed a group of gay men and their friends living in London as they navigated the UK’s HIV/Aids crisis throughout the ’80s and early ’90s.
One of its stars, Nathaniel J Hall, who played Donald, said O’Grady showed everyone “how important it is to be bold and to be brave”.
He told PA: “Paul was a dreamboat. He was one of those people that obviously had incredible fame in the ’90s and as a young out, queer person to reflect our culture on TV in that period was amazing to see.
“He was a kind and compassionate person and his charity work with HIV organisations and dog charities showed that.
“He spoke out about Tory austerity passionately and you could see his roots and grounding growing up in Liverpool. He showed how important it is to be bold and to be brave.
“His passing reminds people that life is short, to grab the bull by the horns.”
Sharing a picture of himself and O’Grady in character as his drag queen persona Lily Savage, musician Sir Elton John wrote on Instagram: “Saddening news to hear of Paul O’Grady’s passing this morning.
“A brilliant entertainer, wit, and supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and the fight against AIDS and HIV who I was fortunate enough to spend time with including when he hosted @davidfurnish’s and my Stag Party before our Civil Partnership in 2005.
“Thank you for all the joy you brought into the world, Paul. You went places nobody had gone before and we will miss you very much.”
Former Labour cabinet minister Lord Chris Smith, the first openly HIV-positive MP according to the Terrence Higgens Trust, told PA: “Paul was one of a kind, was a very special person, brought huge joy to countless people, and fought nobly for the things that were important.”
TV stars Paddy McGuinness and Gaby Roslin joined names from across the world of entertainment in remembering O’Grady, who hosted The Paul O’Grady Show, Blind Date and Blankety Blank.
Former Big Breakfast presenter Roslin, who occasionally sat in for the presenter on his BBC Radio 2 Paul O’Grady show, said his death is “unbelievably sad news” and he was a “one-off” as she posted a picture on Instagram of the star with his dog.
She added: “Goodness me we laughed together so much. Our chats lasted for hours and he’ll be up there now nattering away and keeping everyone laughing.
“This lovely photo of him and (dog) Buster makes me smile and I know he’ll want us all to smile when we think of him and celebrate his life.
“My love and deepest sympathies to Andre and to Sharon and the family. He was brave and clever and naughty and a dear friend. Sleep tight Savage darling I adored you.”
O’Grady presented his final BBC radio show in August 2022, having hosted the Sunday afternoon programme for nearly 14 years.
In a statement, Lorna Clarke, director of music at the BBC, said the corporation is “shocked and saddened” by O’Grady’s death.
She added: “He was a much-loved presenter to the Radio 2 audience and his unique sense of humour, charm and warmth touched the hearts of many.
“Paul will be hugely missed and our thoughts are with his friends and family at this difficult time.”
McGuiness wrote on Twitter that O’Grady, for whom he stood in on his chat show more than 15 years ago, “was always supportive, kind and just great to be around”.
The Top Gear and Take Me Out presenter added: “Paul started in the pubs and working men’s clubs but finished as an icon of British TV. I’ll miss him very much. Rest in peace Paul.”
On Twitter, former BBC Radio 2 presenter Ken Bruce wrote: “Such shocking sad news about Paul O’Grady. A unique and brilliant broadcaster who brightened the nation.”
Drag queen Danny Beard told BBC Breakfast O’Grady was “the most important person in British culture for drag”.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who does the job that I do that doesn’t class Paul as an icon,” the winner of the fourth series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK added.
“Paul was a trailblazer. They were on telly just after the Aids crisis.
“They’ve been the most important person, I think, in British culture for drag, for the queer community.
“This is a really sad loss today… there’s a massive hole missing now.”
TV presenter Carol Vorderman, best known for being on Countdown, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme O’Grady “exploded through the daft, made-up rules of society”.
She added: “When you were with Paul and even when you watched him on screen … he was one of those people who just made your blood feel like you were alive.
“There was every part of you that was alive and you never knew what was going to happen.”
In a statement, Phil Riley, co-founder of Boom Radio, said: “The response to his last show on Christmas Day on (our station) was enormous – listeners felt that he had popped around to their house over lunch. That was his gift.”
O’Grady had been set to host another one-off show on Boom Radio on Easter Sunday.