Paul O'Grady's health battles – as cause of death remains unknown

Paul O’Grady’s history of health scares – from three heart attacks to Covid and kidney failure – as cause of death remains unknown

  • The TV presenter and drag star used to smoke 40 cigarettes a day and had covid
  • He almost died from renal failure in 2017 while filming street dogs in India 
  • Paul O’Grady death LATEST: Get all breaking news and updates on our live blog 

Paul O’Grady may have been ‘laughing, smiling and full of life’ shortly before his ‘unexpected’ death on Tuesday night, but he has had his fair share of health scares in the past including three heart attacks and kidney failure.

He also had a long battle with coronavirus, reporting being left ‘breathless’ for months after he contracted the virus while filming in Malta.

O’Grady’s ‘peaceful’ death was confirmed by husband Andre Portasio, who praised the star’s ‘humour, wit and compassion’ in a touching statement released shortly before 3am on Wednesday. 

The drag star and comedian, also known as his altar ego Lily Savage, died after a series of health battles, but his cause of death remains unknown.

Interviewed last week on BBC Radio Scotland while in Edinburgh to perform in Annie, the TV presenter, 67, – who used to smoke a reported 40 cigarettes a day – was asked about his current health. 

He told the station: ‘Oh, I’ve had everything chucked at me. I’m absolutely fine, touch wood. I’m OK.’

Paul O’Grady told BBC radio just last week that he was ‘ok’ as he spoke about playing Miss Hannigan in musical Annie

Here MailOnline takes a look back at the star’s health battles over the years.

Heart attacks 

Paul O’Grady suffered his first heart attack in April 2002. He was rushed to hospital in London at the age of 46.

O’Grady underwent a two-hour surgery, after which he was described as ‘comfortable’ and was expected to make a full recovery.

He gave up smoking after the attack, having previously been a heavy smoker both in and out of drag. 

But just over four years later the TV presenter was back in hospital after a second heart attack at the age of 51.

After an attack of angina in 2013, O’Grady was also reported to have had a third heart attack in 2014.

He previously told the Sun: ‘My cardiologist says I have the constitution of an ox.

‘Three days after my last heart attack, I was back fire-eating with McFly.

‘The heart is a muscle so you have two choices: Sit on the sofa and count your tablets all day, or get on with it and get moving — swimming and walking, gentle exercise.’

Kidney failure 

Paul O’Grady filming in India as he hosted a show to try and help some of the street dogs of Delhi

After his three heart attacks, O’Grady almost died aged 62 after he contracted a near-fatal virus whilst filming in India.

The dog-lover had been playing with wounded street dogs in Delhi in 2017, ‘lying in the gutter’ with two puppies.

He quickly became ill and told how he could not stop vomiting – leading to him being admitted to hospital due to dehydration.

There they discovered he was heading for renal failure and gave him saline and antibiotics.

Despite advice, he left hospital after just one night because he ‘wanted to get back to work’.


O’Grady, 67, also battled Long Covid in 2022 after contracted the virus whilst filming in Malta

In July 2022 O’Grady contracted Covid-19 while filming a show in Malta.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland just last week, he described how the illness left him breathless and unable to work for two months. 

He said: ‘I think my last disaster was when I caught Covid last year. 

‘We were filming in Malta and I only got one day’s filming done. The next thing I was in a hotel room for nine days.

‘But getting over it was the worry. I was a good two months being breathless and tired. To tell you the truth, I thought, “I’ll never work again in this state. I can’t.”

‘But I’m back in business.’

Gasping for air 

Paul O’Grady in the musical Annie where he played Miss Hannigan (right)

After his troubled health history O’Grady could have been forgiven for taking things easy but he continued to pursue his love of entertaining just days before his death.

Speaking to the BBC about his latest role as Miss Hannigan in musical Annie, Paul joked about ‘gasping for air’ when performing Easy Street.

He joked: ‘Don’t take the elderly for granted. I’m no chicken. I’m 67, I’m 68 this year, and I’m rocking around with Miss Hannigan doing Easy Street gasping for air.’

Speaking about the role, he added: ‘The last time I was in Annie was 28 years ago. It’s strange coming back after so long. 

‘But Hannigan is such fun. Because you can play her pure evil, but I don’t. I play her for laughs, because she’s either drunk or hungover. Either way she’s mean.’

O’Grady’s death was announced by his husband overnight on Wednesday.

His cause of death remains unclear. 

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