Freddie Starr (Frederick Leslie Fowell), comedian. Born: 9 January 1943 in Huyton, Lancashire. Died: 9 May 2019 on Costa Del Sol, Spain, aged 76
Freddie Starr was a household name but his outrageous sense of humour frequently landed him in hot water.
His wacky pranks and sketches won him a loyal fan base but meant he was often in disgrace.
The Sun ran the infamous “Freddie Starr ate my hamster headline” in 1986 – and the claim followed Starr for the rest of his life, despite his denials.
Married four times and father to six children, Starr’s life was full of ups and downs.
His later years were marred by allegations of historic sexual assault and a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful defamation lawsuit that cost him a rumoured £1 million.
The Liverpudlian started out singing with a local pop group before moving into comedy.
He made his comedy debut on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks.
The show led to an appearance in the 1970s Royal Variety Performance and a place in the line-up of sketch show Who Do You Do?
Perhaps bolstered by the Sun’s outrageous hamster headline, Starr had a string of self-titled sketch and talk shows over the course of the 1990s.
It was not all clean family fun – in 1997 he sparked outrage by hurling live chickens into an audience at the Britannia Theatre, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Kerry Duthie, who was in the audience, said: “It was absolutely wicked. People were screaming and there were feathers flying in the air. The chickens were flapping about in a panic.
“I am not a big animal rights supporter, but to see that happen was so cruel. If it was a cat or dog, people would have been up in arms. But because it was a chicken they got away with it.”
Starr shrugged off the criticism, saying: “There is nothing wrong with what happened and it will be left in the video. It was not cruel at all.
“As far as the chickens go, it was a one-off. They have a professional handler and were kept in the cool outside the theatre before going on stage.”
In 1994 a childhood dream came true when his racehorse Miinnehoma won the Grand National.
“Some people think that the most wonderful sight they will see is a sunset over the Taj Mahal – but for me, the dream is to see my horse go past the winning post,” he said.
With his career on the wane, in 2000 Starr admitted on Tonight With Trevor McDonald that he was taking handfuls of anti-depressants a day.
Having already divorced twice, he said he had considered suicide.
“No matter what anti-depressant that you take, you become immune to it after a while so they stop working,” he said.
Starr told the programme his difficulties began as a child when a speech impediment led to him losing the ability to talk completely and he spent two years in a home.
Starr said he covered his insecurities by “playing the idiot”.
“I play the person that doesn’t care or with no feelings but little do people know how seriously I do take my job,” he said.
“I just like to make people laugh. We’re not talking about brain surgery here or saving people’s lives, we’re talking about laughter, which is one of the greatest medicines in the world and I can give some of that to an audience and that’s great,” he added.
He suffered a major heart attack in April 2010 and underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery but still signed up for the 2011 series of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!
But a meal of fermented egg and a camel toe in the bushtucker trial saw him rushed to hospital after he suffered an allergic reaction.
He was advised to drop out in case his illness flared up again.
Starr said at the time: “I wanted to be there until the very end but there’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
After leaving the jungle, Starr was caught up in Operation Yewtree – the police investigation into historical sex offences launched after the litany of crimes committed by broadcaster Jimmy Savile came to light.
He was accused of groping a 15-year-old girl while she attended a Jimmy Savile TV show and spent 18 months on bail before he was told he would not be prosecuted.
In 2015 he lost a High Court damages claim against his accuser, leaving him with an estimated £1 million legal bill.
He told the Mail on Sunday at the time the case had left him isolated and suicidal and prompted his move to Spain.
“No matter which way I turned there was a ****ing revolver pointing at my head so I thought, ‘I’m not going to tell anyone, I’m just going to get on a plane and go to Spain, the place I love, and this is where I’m going to die’,” he told the paper.
“I didn’t even know how high the legal fees were until after I’d left Britain.”
He added: “I feel suicidal at times because I don’t think things are going to get any better for me.”
Starr said many of his friends in showbusiness had abandoned him and that he was too ill to work.
His sense of humour continued to shine through in the last year of his life – in February he posted a picture on Facebook of himself with cigarettes stuffed into his mouth, nose and ears.
In May he posted: “Hello everyone, hope everyone is okay? Me yes I’m okay getting tired now but otherwise I’m doing good.
“I just have to say thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all the kind comments and messages it really does mean a lot so thank you to each and every one of you. Thanks so much. Freddie.”
On the page – Freddie Starr Official – a message purportedly from his manager was posted at around 10.30pm on Thursday saying: “Just to confirm Freddie has passed away. RIP to our greatest comedian of all time.”
Tess de la Mare