TV variety host Graham Kennedy died of pneumonia May 25 in Bowral, New South Wales, Australia. He was 71.
After working in radio for several years, Kennedy made his television debut in 1957, a year after the medium was introduced in Australia. Inspired by “Tonight Show” host Steve Allen, Frank Packer’s Channel Nine chose the 23-year old to host nightly variety show “In Melbourne Tonight.” Through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Kennedy went national as anchor of “Blankety Blanks,” “Coast to Coast,” “Graham Kennedy’s Funniest Home Video Show” and for 13 years “The Graham Kennedy Show.”
He became known as the king of Australian television, during an era where Oz screens were dominated by U.S. and British material. Kennedy became a lynchpin in Channel Nine’s dominance of live television, even though he hailed from the school of vaudeville, flying custard pies, in-studio pyrotechnics and borderline blue language. Known for his quick wit honed from years on radio, Kennedy thrived on live television. His style was built around innuendo, and his bawdy banter constantly pushed the boundaries of the Oz censors who famously reined him in 1975 after the legendary “crow call” incident on “The Graham Kennedy Show.” While imitating a crow — “faaaark” — Kennedy was deemed to have used an obscenity and a rash of complaints and a media backlash followed. Ruling body, the Broadcasting Control Board, banned him from live TV and forced him to pre-record all his material and he quit the show soon after.
The TV comic is often credited with helping the Packer family build their TV empire by providing high ratings and solid ad revenues for the Nine Network during its formative years with “In Melbourne Tonight.”
Kennedy also appeared in several influential Australian films including “Don’s Party” (1976), “The Odd Angry Shot” (1979), “The Club” (1980), “The Return of Captain Invincible” (1982), “Stanley” (1983), “The Killing Fields” (1983) and “Travelling North” (1986).
Kennedy retired in 1991 and lived a private, reclusive life thereafter.
He had no survivors.