DERMOT MORGAN, the Irish actor who played the character of Father Ted in the hit Channel 4 series, collapsed and later died in the early hours of Sunday (March 1). He would have celebrated his 46th birthday on March 3.
Morgan died in West Middlesex Hospital shortly after midnight after being taken ill at a dinner party he was hosting for family and friends at his Richmond, London home. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack. He had complained of heart palpitations the week before. Doctors from the hospital’s emergency unit battled for 25 minutes to save his life.
Frank Kelly who plays Father Jack in the series said Morgan’s death had left him “shattered”. “I was taping a programme with him on Friday night and I have only just got back to London. Who can predict that something like this is going to happen? Dermot’s mind was mercurial. He was able to get on top of a very big role. He was very, very professional about this whole thing. I think that he was a kind of comedic meteor. He burnt himself out, I think.”
Onetime NME contributor Arthur Matthews, co-writer of the show with Graham Linehan said: “He was very easy to write for, and brilliant in it. It is not that easy a role and I cannot imagine anyone else having done it. He really made it his own.” Morgan featured on the cover of the 1996 Christmas NME double issue thanks to his and the show’s enormous popularity with NME‘s readers, who voted it their fifth most popular TV comedy show.
Morgan had just completed filming the third and final series of Father Ted on Friday night (February 27). The shows were due to commence screening in the UK this Friday (March 6). Following consultations with Morgan’s family, Channel 4 will delay its transmission for a week. Morgan was a respected comic in Ireland for 20 years before Father Ted thrust him into the international spotlight. He was educated at a Christian Brothers College which he later described as “good paramilitary training”.
As a child he had entertained notions of actually becoming a priest, but in adolescence rebelled against what he called “the systematic hypocrisy” of the church. On leaving Dublin University College in 1974 he became a teacher and began to appear as a stand-up comic in a number of Dublin clubs. A TV break in 1978 led to him playing a character called Father Trendy on Irish TV for the next four years.
After insulting just about every member of the Ireland’s religious and political establishment he was forced back into stand-up comedy. Comedy records about boxer Barry McGuigan and Irish PM Charles Haughey met with domestic success. In 1990 he co-founded a Spitting Image-esque satire called Scrap Saturday. It was cancelled two years later by RTE, once again after complaints from politicians.
RTE also refused to broadcast Father Ted when it was offered to them in 1995 but relented after it was a Channel 4 hit. As well as the third series of Father Ted, which was to have been the last, Morgan had recently been working on a drama series and had been developing a couple of sitcoms.
He is survived by Fiona, his partner of 11 years, and their son and two children from his first marriage.