Paul O’Grady’s husband recalls devastating battle to save star’s life one year on from his death

Exactly one year on from the death of Paul O’Grady, his husband André Portasio has shared heart-breaking details of how he tried to save the comedian’s life.

The TV host and creator of drag legend Lily Savage died from sudden cardiac arrhythmia at his home in Kent on 28 March 2023. His death prompted an outpouring of grief from the UK’s queer community and LGBTQ+ celebrities.

Speaking to The Mirror 12 months on, his long-time partner and husband of six years, André Portasio, said the day that O’Grady passed started ordinarily. O’Grady had woken up late because he hadn’t been home long following a tour, then he met producer Malcolm Prince to discuss his BBC Radio 2 show.

“He was looking very smart in a white shirt, and had a good aura,” Portasio said. “I’ll never forget saying to him how handsome he looked, and him joking back saying: ‘F**k off’.”

Paul O’Grady and drag alter ego Lily Savage. (Getty)

After the meeting, O’Grady and Portasio walked their five dogs, before settling in for the evening.

“He was on wonderful form and we switched on the telly to catch up on [the] news.”

O’Grady then got up to make a cup of tea, and Portasio was startled by a “loud bang”, but initially brushed it off. “I walked to the kitchen to start putting some food on, I started taking things out of the fridge,” he said. “And all of a sudden, I could see him lying on the floor.

“He had a cut on his forehead and I thought he was probably just unconscious… I called the ambulance and they said the best chance to keep him alive was to do CPR.”

Portasio tried to resuscitate the For The Love of Dogs host before the ambulance arrived. As he worked desperately to save his husband, O’Grady’s dog Arfur tried to wake him up too.

“As I was trying to resuscitate him, I was trying to keep the dogs out of the room… but somehow Arfur, who was one of his favourites, escaped and he nuzzled his face as he always did, as if to say: ‘Wake up’. It was heartbreaking.”

Andre Portasio (R) has spoken about husband Paul O’Grady’s last moments. (Getty)

While there was a small moment where the paramedics managed to get O’Grady breathing again, it was “short-lived” and the star was pronounced dead.

Ballet dancer Portasio has no intention of marking O’Grady’s death in the UK – in fact he is “as far away as possible” in New Zealand, not wanting to be reminded of what happened.

“Paul was very protective of me during the 18 years we spent together but I’m ready for the next challenge, and my duty is to carry Paul’s work on,” he added. “I’m hoping this trip will give me a sense of how I will move on, and the prospect of not being with him.”

O’Grady can be seen in a new two-part series, Paul O’Grady’s Great Elephant Adventure, starting at 8pm on ITV1 on Easter Sunday (31 March), and that’s followed by another chance to see The Life and Death of Lily Savage, at 10.15pm.

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