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Dermot Morgan as Father TedMORGAN, Dermot 1952-1998

One of TV's best-loved comedy stars, Irishman Dermot Morgan became a television star playing the vain and feckless Father Ted Crilly in the hit Channel 4 show Father Ted, a priest who dreamed of the sybaritic life in Las Vegas and stole money his parishioners raised to visit Lourdes. Morgan died on Saturday the 28th of February 1998 of an apparent heart attack after collapsing at his home in London while entertaining friends at a dinner party just days before his 46th birthday. He had completed taping of the show's third series a day earlier.

Ireland loved him, and President Mary McAleese, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner and former president Mary Robinson and deputy prime minister Mary Harney were among the mourners  at a requiem Mass for him. Prime Minister Bertie Ahern had gone to the Church of St. Theresa in south Dublin the previous night to pay his respects. The Rev. Michael Paul Gallagher, who celebrated the Mass for his friend and former student, said Ireland had lost a comic genius and someone who was widely loved. But Morgan had annoyed many in the church both with his portrayal of Father Ted and his earlier incarnation as Father Trendy.

The popularity of Father Ted, originally broadcast in Britain and then picked up by Ireland's RTE network in 1997, was a measure of liberalisation in Ireland and the waning power of the church. There wasn't a single flattering portrayal of a clergyman, or anyone else for that matter, in the show. Morgan's character was venal and scheming, motivated largely by petty rivalry with other priests. His conversation leaned dangerously toward expletives. Ted shared a rectory on the mythical Craggy Island with the brainless and infantile Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O'Hanlon) and the drooling, alcohol-ravaged Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly), who frequently barked from his armchair: "Drrrink!"

In one interview, Morgan admitted he was "a lapsed Catholic. "I just don't think it's right for priests to hop around the altar telling you what' to do." But "Father Ted" rarely took a shot at Catholic doctrine, and got its laughs mainly from surreal flights of fantasy. In one episode, the rectory filled up overnight with rabbits; in another, Ted prayed for relief from a boring fellow priest, who was immediately struck by lightning.

After a short career as a teacher, Morgan was a freelance contributor to RTE-TV's "Live Mike" show, where "Father Trendy" made his first appearance. He finally had a success with "Scrap Saturday," a satirical radio program. But when RTE decided not to renew the show, Morgan accused the network of "a shameless act of broadcasting cowardice and political subservience.

Brian Boyd wrote in The Irish Times "The term 'struggle' is not inappropriate for a writer/performer who spent much too much of his career banging his head against a brick wall of reactionary sensibilities and broadcasting cowardice."

Tributes to the much-loved star were led by Irish premier Bertie Ahern, who said: "I was shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely death of Dermot Morgan. "He was one of the greatest entertainers ever produced by this country. He won millions of friends with his comic genius and sense of fun."

Former Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey, one of the main targets for the actor's barbed wit on RTE radio's Scrap Saturday said: "I am deeply saddened to hear of Dermot's sudden tragic death. "He will be missed as a talented, innovative professional, who brought great pleasure and enjoyment to hundreds of thousands of people."

 

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