George Melly, a man who defied labels thoughout his life, has died.
He will be remembered for his love of jazz, his legendary performances at London club Ronnie Scott’s and his strong support for the gay community.
Mr Melly, 80, was suffering from cancer and demenita. His wife Diana was with him when he died at his home in London in the early hours of this morning.
His sexual ambiguity was one of the most charming aspects of this most charming of performers.
He acted as vice-president of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) whose members expressed their sorrow today at his death.
The middle-class English boy found his love of jazz while at private school, where he reportedly seduced Peregrine Worsthorne, later editor of the Sunday Telegraph.
George was an early hero of the gay rights movement with his openness about his own ambiguous sexuality, told with such humour and affection in his autobiography Rum, Bum and Concertina.
He was also a long-time supporter of secularist causes, not only as a vice president of GALHA but also an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.
GALHA’s chairman, Jim Herrick, commented: “We are very sorry to lose George Melly, he was always a colourful character and he took part in our reading of the supposedly ‘blasphemous’ poem which took place on the steps of St Martins in the Field in Trafalgar Square in 2002.
“We defied the law in order to mark the 25th anniversary of the prosecution of Gay News – a publication that George contributed to on more than one occasion.”
George Broadhead, another of GALHA’s vice-presidents and until recently its long-standing secretary, said:
“George Melly first joined our panel of supporting vice-presidents at my invitation in 1983.
“In his letter of acceptance, he wrote: “I would be delighted to be one of your vice-presidents as although I am an ex gay, I remain a Humanist.””
His wife Diana told PA:
“He was born in Liverpool in 1926 and for 60 years has been an acclaimed, popular and much-loved performer.
“George was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005 for which he refused all treatment and continued singing until near the end.”