Keith Harris, ventriloquist, dies at 67

Keith Harris with Orville. Picture: PA
Keith Harris with Orville. Picture: PA
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TRIBUTES were paid last night to ventriloquist Keith Harris, who died yesterday and was famous for his act with his puppet duck Orville.

His agent, Robert C Kelly, confirmed that the entertainer died from cancer, aged 67.

“Sad to announce death from cancer of my client, dear friend and great talent, Keith Harris,” Mr Kelly wrote on Twitter.

He said that Harris, whom he described as a “thoroughly decent man”, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and became ill again in January.

He said: “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 on stage and off.

“Perhaps even rarer than that in showbiz, he was a thoroughly decent man, a great friend and a wonderful father and husband.”

Mr Kelly said Harris, who died in hospital in Blackpool, spent his last months “at his second home in Portugal, taking walks along the Blackpool seafront and sitting in the park eating ice cream and watching the world go by”.

He entertained generations of children with his sidekick Orville, a bright green duck who wore a nappy, and a monkey called Cuddles, whose role was to relentlessly taunt Orville.

At the height of his fame, he was a regular on Saturday night television, with his own programme, The Keith Harris Show, and put on private performances at birthday parties for Prince William and his brother Harry.

His 1982 single with Orville, I Wish I Could Fly, was a top-five hit and sold more than 400,000 copies.

Among those paying tribute were singer and broadcaster Aled Jones, who said: “Sad to hear of the death of Keith Harris – sending best wishes to his family and friends.”

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Very sad to hear that Keith Harris has died after a battle with cancer. Brought joy to my childhood.”

Presenter Keith Chegwin tweeted: “So sad. A great entertainer and all round nice man Keith Harris has passed away. Best wishes to his family at this sad time. RIP.”

Comedian Julian Clary described Harris as “a lovely, funny, talented man”.

The actor and comedian Patrick McGuinness said: “RIP Keith Harris, a part of my childhood gone.”

The Keith Harris Show ran for eight years between 1982 and 1990. In 2000 he reinvented himself as an X-rated ventriloquist, touring student unions with his adult show, Duck Off.

He appeared in the 2002 Louis Theroux documentary When Louis Met Keith Harris, and won the Channel Five reality show The Farm in 2005.