Barry Humphries' secret battle with inoperable cancer

Barry Humphries’ secret battle against an inoperable cancer in the years before his death – as he’s farewelled in a small private funeral and his touching final days are revealed

  • Humphries endured long cancer battle
  • Loved ones gathered for private funeral  

Late entertainer Barry Humphries had been in a lengthy and debilitating battle with an inoperable cancer before his death last week, as details of his final days are revealed.

The Australian comedic legend, 89, passed away at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital last Saturday night.

Those closest to Humphries gathered on Friday for a private funeral service at the  estate of longtime friend and artist Tim Storrier at Bowral, in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Humphries’ wife of three decades, Lizzie Spender, and children Tessa, Emily, Rupert and Oscar, joined friends to bid farewell to the legend, who was best known for his iconic Dame Edna persona. 

Humphries pictured with wife Lizzie Spender, who was part of an intimate gathering to bid farewell to the comic great who died after a battle with cancer and hip surgery complications

Close family sources have confirmed that Humphries health challenges were more serious and complex than previously reported, according to the Daily Telegraph.

In 2021 he was diagnosed with a rare form of pre-invasive skin cancer –  Extramammary Paget disease –  on one of his testicles, requiring surgery.

Extramammary Paget disease is a rare dermatologic condition that commonly presents in areas where apocrine sweat glands are abundant, and usually occurs in the sixth to eighth decades of life.

When Humphries underwent hip replacement surgery after breaking his hip in a fall in February, the extensiveness of the cancer was revealed and he spent his final weeks saying goodbye to family and friends. 

It is believed Humphries continued to display humour in the company of loved ones, doctors and nurses in his final heartbreaking days. 

‘He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit,’ his family said in a statement.

Humphries pictured as Dame Edna Everage, one of his most memorable personas

Plans to stage one last concert tour were thwarted by his prognosis, which would end his life within six weeks. 

Oscar and half-sister Emily’s reunion with their father is believed to have made for some emotional hospital scenes.

Film director Bruce Beresford, British comedian Rob Brydon, British journalist Andrew Neal and writer Kathy Lette were also among those present at Friday’s service.

Mr Beresford said no speeches were made, but excerpts from some of Mr Humphries favourite poems were read, including his favourite poem, The Heart of a Friend by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Film director Bruce Beresford was a longtime friend of Barry Humphries

‘It was very touching, very warm. Everybody was either ­related or a great friend of Barry’s,’ Mr Beresford said.

Mr Beresford, who directed Humphries in 1972’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, described his friend’s death as ‘terribly sad’.

‘I watched him fade,’ he said.

King Charles also extended his sympathies to the family.

His family had previously been in discussions with the Victorian government about a possible state funeral for the star yet it remains unclear if that will proceed.

Victoria’s Creative Industries Minister, Steve Dimopoulos, revealed earlier this week that talks were under way with the entertainer’s loved ones about the best ways to honour his legacy.

‘The primary mover of these things is the family because it’s their gift effectively to decide in conversation with government,’ Mr Dimopoulos said on Sunday.

‘So yes it could be that [a state funeral],’ he added. 

Humphries, who was raised an Anglican but no longer considered himself to be religious, was cremated during the week.  

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