Legendary ventriloquist and entertainer Keith Harris has died aged 67, his agent confirmed to RadioTimes.com. He passed away at Blackpool Victoria Hospital this morning after losing his battle with a rare form of cancer.
Best known to many for his television shows featuring Orville the Duck and Cuddles the Monkey, Harris enjoyed a long TV and stage career as well as recording several charting hits.
At the height of his fame between 1982 and 1990 Harris had his own BBC1 Saturday night format, The Keith Harris Show – followed by The Quack Chat Show (also featuring his beloved green duck Orville) until 1993.
In 1982, Harris recorded a number four charting hit in the shape of I Wish I Could Fly, a duet with Orville the Duck which sold over four hundred thousand copies and is still on the tip of the tongue of many adults (including this one) who grew up in the 1980s.
A prolific entertainer, Keith appeared at five Royal Variety Performances and Children’s Royal Variety Performances during his career. Such did his star rise in the 1980s that he was personally requested by Diana, Princess of Wales, to give private performances at Highgrove House and Kensington Palace for Prince William and Prince Harry’s birthdays.
After his television shows on the BBC, Harris continued to make appearances on our screens. He was the subject of a 2002 Louis Theroux documentary, and later won the 2005 Channel 5 reality show The Farm.
A king of the stage, Harris played seasons at the London Palladium and the Dominion Theatre. He holds the record for the longest ever pantomime run (22 weeks in Aladdin) and the all-time highest ticket selling pantomime for his early 90s stint at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool.
Robert C Kelly, his agent and friend of over 20 years, said:
“I met Keith during the summer season at The Gaiety Theatre in Ayr in 1992 and we very quickly became great friends. That relationship subsequently moved onto a business footing when Keith asked me to manage him. Despite that, we were always friends first.
“I spoke to Keith most days whether we had business to do or not. I think I laughed every single time we spoke. Keith was not only a technically great ventriloquist, he was also a gifted mimic and an extraordinarily funny man both onstage and off. Perhaps even rarer than that in showbiz, he was a thoroughly decent man, a great friend and a wonderful father and husband.
“The family have asked for privacy at this time.”
Harris is survived by his fourth wife Sarah and his children Kitty and Shenton. Keith also leaves a daughter Skye from his first marriage to singer Jacqui Scott and his mother Lila and brother Colin.