Tributes have poured in from across the entertainment and broadcasting industry for the showbiz veteran Lionel Blair who died at the age of 92 yesterday.
The veteran showbiz star, who was a prominent figure on British TV screens throughout the late 1960s, the 1970s, died in the early hours on Thursday surrounded by his family, his management company confirmed.
The star’s agent said: ‘He got to a very ripe old age, he was loved by his family, and I think he died in their company, which is lovely.’
Last night actress Bonnie Langford shared a picture of herself dancing with Blair, alongside the message: ‘Dear Lionel. Privileged to have been your dance partner.’
And comedian and writer Gyles Brandreth said: ‘Lionel Blair – he was just the best: a powerhouse of positivity and a wonderful talent as a dancer, choreographer & entertainer.
‘He told me stories of his time with Errol Flynn & Ernest Hemingway – he lived his long life to the full & leaves a legacy of style & smiles & laughter.’
Tributes have poured for Lionel Blair who died at the age of 92 yesterday surrounded by his family
Tributes have poured for the showbiz veteran Lionel Blair who died at the age of 92 yesterday. Actress Bonnie Langford shared a picture of herself dancing with Blair while comedian and writer Gyles Brandreth said the star was ‘a powerhouse of positivity’
And Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘RIP Lionel Blair, 92. A wonderful all-round entertainer & lovely man. Sad news.’
Singer Sheila Ferguson, who appeared with Blair on the Real Marigold Hotel, wrote: ‘OMG. I just heard that my darling LionelBlair has passed away.
‘Iconically I was just thinking about him today. My heart hurts. RIPLionelBlair. Friend since the 70’s, #TheRealMarigoldHotel and beyond.’
Broadcaster Danny Baker tweeted: ‘The greatest showbiz story I know has Lionel Blair as it’s hero. Honestly. I could tell it here.
‘But I knew Lionel well. He would be, ‘Oh no darling, keep it for the act, don’t throw that away, are you mad?’ So I will.
‘Blackheath Halls January 8th-9th. And bless you, Guvnor.’
Author Emma Kennedy tweeted: ‘I am very glad I got to meet Lionel Blair. He was a Phenomenon. Full of magical, fruity, end with a wink anecdotes. What a career. What a talent. £RIPLionel’
While actor Julian Clary tweeted: ‘RIP dear Lionel Blair. A showbiz trooper if ever there was.’
Stand-up comedian Ed Byrne tweeted: ‘One of the highlights of my short lived Saturday morning radio show on BBC London (which I co hosted with my mother) was when we had Lionel Blair as a guest.
‘Smoking fags and knocking back gin and tonics with us at 11am. We even got him to tap dance on a sheet of plywood. Legend,’ he said.
Actor Antony Cotton tweeted: ‘Good night, Lionel Blair. I was honoured to have met, and worked with him a couple of times. He was divine x’
Elsewhere actor and presenter Christopher Biggins said he and Blair often spoke on the phone and Blair had called him two weeks ago but he was out at the time.
Also paying tribute to the veteran star last night was comedian Ed Byrne, singer Michael Ball and comedian and writer Gyles Brandreth
He told BBC News: ‘He was just the most wonderful, kind, funny, real giver of life. His energy was extraordinary.’
Biggins said he got to know Blair on the long-running show Give Us a Clue which Blair did opposite Una Stubbs who also died this year.
‘He’s up there now entertaining with Una, I’m sure,’ he said.
Biggins said Blair was ‘very competitive’ and ‘loved to win’, adding: ‘He was just marvellous, a wonderful entertainer who will be sadly missed.’
The TV star said Blair had a ‘great sense of humour’ and was a ‘tribute to his wonderful family’, describing him as the ‘king of the pantomime’ and a man who was ‘adored’ by the public.
He added: ‘He could sing, he could dance, he was just like Bruce Forsyth.’
Born in Montreal, Canada, Blair, who was born Henry Lionel Ogus, moved to north London’s Stamford Hill with his family when he was just two-years-old.
The veteran showbiz trouper, who in recent years has also appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and the BBC’s The Real Marigold Hotel, fed his early passion for performing while sheltering from air raids during the Second World War.
He was evacuated to Oxford when war broke out, with his sister Joyce and mother Deborah.
However, the family’s stint in the countryside did not last long and they returned to London after witnessing a German plane crash leading to his father, Myer, calling them back to the capital.
The star’s agent said that he ‘got to a very ripe old age’ and ‘was loved by his family’
The legendary showbiz star was a prominent figure on British TV screens throughout the late 1960s, the 1970s
The actor and choreographer pictured with his wife Susan Blair after the birth of their second child in 1971
Liza Goddard, Michael Parkinson and Lionel Blair as team leaders on the game show Give us a Clue
‘If that can happen there, what’s the point of being in the country away from each other?’ Blair said his father told him.
The young Blair got his first taste of showbiz by watching the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple at the cinema, before going home to copy them.
Blair was 13 when his father died after going in for surgery on a hernia and duodenal ulcer. ‘It changed everything,’ Blair said.
‘It was the first time I’d ever thought, I’m never going to see him again. It was so awful and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a loss like it.’
Blair said he had to grow up ‘artificially fast’ following the death of his father, and he was already making a name for himself as an actor.
However, then came the death of his mother, leaving him an orphan.
Throughout his showbiz career, he has been a dancer, choreographer, TV presenter, director and actor – covering the entire sphere of the business.
In the West End he played the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, and had roles in Lady Be Good, Mr Cinders and Pageant.
He choreographed and appeared in TV shows featuring stars such as Anthony Newley, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Liza Minnelli, as well as a Royal Variety performance with Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.
The pair later became good friends and Blair selected the singer for an episode of Great Lives on BBC Radio Four in 2010.
Blair also appeared in the Beatles’s film A Hard Day’s Night as a choreographer. However, he is best known for being captain of the men’s team on Give Us A Clue, the ITV game show.
He reprised the role in a 2011 Comic Relief special and was back on screens for Celebrity Big Brother in 2014. He spent 15 days in the house, exiting third after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.
In 2017, he was one of the celebrities appearing in the BBC reality series The Real Marigold Hotel. Blair’s ubiquity in British entertainment helped save a man’s life.
Showbiz trouper Lionel Blair with Macmillan Cancer Relief nurses in London in 2000
In 2006, he and comedian Alan Carr were forced to abandon filming for a comedy to talk a man out of taking his own life.
The pair were shooting a pilot for Carr’s End Of The Pier show on the North Pier in Blackpool, when a man was seen on the edge of the pier, threatened to throw himself off.
Carr and Blair talked him down until police arrived to help him home. ‘It really scared me – I’ve never experienced anything like that before,’ Blair said.
‘We spent about 10 minutes talking to him. He just kept saying he wanted to end it all. Then someone said it was Lionel Blair from TV and he did a double take.
‘I reached out, then he grabbed both our arms and we heaved him up.’
In 2014, Blair tried his hand at reality television as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother – which was ultimately won by comedian Jim Davidson, with rapper Dappy as runner-up.
Blair spent 15 days in the house, exiting third after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.
The star married wife Susan in March 1967 and once said the secret to a successful marriage is memories.
The couple have three children and three grandchildren.