Showbiz friends and fans joined family members to bid a final farewell to ventriloquist Keith Harris at his funeral in Lancashire yesterday.
Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket, former Coronation Street actor Ken Morley and singing stars Maureen and Denise Nolan were among those who attended the service.
Crowds gathered outside Blackpool’s Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church to pay their respects to the star, who died last week after losing his fight against a rare form of cancer.
The 67-year-old performer delighted generations of children with his sidekick Orville, a bright green fluffy duck who wore a nappy and spoke in a childlike voice. Another popular puppet was the orange monkey Cuddles, whose catchphrase was “I hate that duck”.
Harris, who married four times and had three children, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and became ill again in January this year. He died in hospital on 28 April.
Among the mourners was Sarah, his wife since 1999, and their children Kitty, 15, and Shenton, 13. Skye, his 27-year-old daughter from an earlier marriage, was also there.
The entertainer’s friend and agent Robert Kelly said at the service: “Keith told me recently that he had four lives – before famous, when famous, a short and dreadful period after he was famous and the period from when he met Sarah.
“Most people would know Keith as the star, but he was the most kindest, generous, most loving friend you could ever wish for.”
He said Harris would be remembered as “a truly, thoroughly decent man”.
In the order of service, Mrs Harris wrote: “Keith was the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. He was honest, kind and a true gentleman with good old-fashioned values and he always made me laugh.
“He worked his way up to the very top, his passion for the business drove him to be the star that he became – it didn’t happen overnight but through hard work and dedication.”
She said her husband had possessed “pure faith and unflinching belief that anything was possible”.
At the height of his fame, Harris was a Saturday night TV regular and put on birthday performances for princes William and Harry at Princess Diana’s request.
His 1982 single with Orville, I Wish I Could Fly, made the top five, selling more than 400,000 copies. It was later voted the worst song ever recorded.
Bobby Crush, who wrote the hit, was at the service and left a floral tribute. Little Britain star Matt Lucas sent flowers.
Severe dyslexia saw the talented ventriloquist labelled “thick” at school and reportedly cost him £7 million in earnings as a result of being unable to read his contracts.
Now, in the wake of the puppeteer’s death, his most famous creation is to be “retired”. “There are no plans for Orville. That’s the end,” Mr Kelly said.
The service was followed by a private burial.