Last Update: Wednesday, May 25, 2005. 7:27am (AEST)
Australia's king of television dies
Television legend Graham Kennedy died at the age of 71 after a long battle with illness.
He spent the last years of his life as a recluse in the New South Wales southern highlands and died in a local nursing home from complications with pneumonia.
Born on February 15, 1934, Kennedy left school aged 15 to work for Radio Australia but soon made live television his domain during a 12-year stint as the host of In Melbourne Tonight.
Kennedy's sharp wit and spontaneous nature won him 14 Logies - including the "Star of the Year" award at the first ceremony in 1959 - and made him the most popular person on Australian television.
In 1998 he was inducted into the Logies hall of fame.
But his irreverence also resulted in a number of controversial moments.
In 1975 he was banned from live TV for his infamous crow call of a four-letter word.
Kennedy returned to the small screen two years later with the game show Blankety Blanks.
The man affectionately known as Gra-Gra proved himself more than just a television personality when he turned to the big screen, winning critical acclaim for a series of character roles.
In 1981 he was nominated for an AFI award for best lead actor, his part in The Club.
His role as Mack in the 1976 film Don's Party revealed much about Kennedy's private life.
"There's a bit of me in there too, I'm ... happiness has eluded me. Love has eluded me so far," he said.
Despite his larger-than-life television persona, off-screen Kennedy considered himself an introvert.
"My private life is anything but what people may consider to be the show business life," he said.
"I hate going to parties. I rather enjoy being by myself."
Icon for loneliness
After a brief return to television in the late 1980s, Kennedy retired to a property in the southern highlands in 1991.
He lived a reclusive life, granting only rare interviews over the fax machine.
The sharp wit and keen sense of humour gave way to ill health in his final years.
He was treated for diabetes, pneumonia and also suffered brain damage after a fall in 2001.
In 2003 Kennedy's biographer, Graeme Blundell, said Gra-Gra had become an "icon for aloneness, an icon for the nature of the solitary life".
"He appeared to have turned his back on this massive audience that had grown up with him in many respects and I think that's what people found almost eternally fascinating," he said.
Blundell says Kennedy's ordinariness was part of his success.
"He was an ordinary working-class boy, brought up by his grandmother, with odd relationships with his mother and his father who divorced just before the war," he said.
"There's almost a Wodehousian side of Graham Kennedy that starts to work at an early age.
"You have this tension between the working-class accent and the working-class sending-up style and this desire to know what the best wine is and being able to converse with the most intelligent and successful people in the land.
"And this conflict, this tension, characterises the work.
"On the one hand, he takes things enormously seriously and the next minute turns them on their head, dismantles them and debunks them, and it makes him a very dangerous customer when he's live and let loose."
'I know how it ends'
In an interview on GNT, Blundell said Kennedy was bemused when friend Tony Sattler first handed him a copy of the biography King: The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy.
"He lifted it and felt the weight of it and said, 'Is that really all about me?'
"He wasn't joking, apparently - I was very touched by that.
"He had seen a couple of chapters of an early draft.
"We thought we would love to clear up some aspects of the public record, particularly in relation to his family and to people he'd worked with over the years.
"But he read bits of it and said to Tony, 'It's a bit like reading a CV or press clippings. I'm not that interested. Anyway, I know how it ends'."