Nick Cave: Barry Humphries was offensive on every level – and a hero

Nick Cave has described late entertainer Barry Humphries as a “great inspiration” for him growing up.

The Australian stage and screen veteran, who died on April 22 aged 89, was best-known for his satirical characters during a seven-decade career entertaining generations of fans, including Bad Seeds musician Cave.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s This Cultural Life, Cave recalled seeing Humphries’ boisterous on-stage persona Dame Edna Everage perform in Melbourne when Cave was 15.

“He was a hero of mine,” he said.

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Barry Humphries as his alter ego, Dame Edna Everage (Sean Dempsey/PA)

“(His) shows are extreme. Extremely politically incorrect and offensive on every possible level and she (Dame Edna) just lets loose.

“And it’s mostly a satirising of a particular Australian-ness which I think Australia outlived and maybe Barry started to grate to some Australians after a while, but it was so thrilling.

“It was these sorts of people for me growing up that were my great inspiration, particularly a group of Australians from his generation that were just troublemakers and that stirred the cultural pot, that were social irritants.

“These people were my heroes because they were just the thorn in the side of Australian culture – more than my musical heroes to some degree, it was these people taught me about, not just the need to push against things, but the great pleasure in doing that.”

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Barry Humphries after he was made an OBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace (Steve Parsons/PA)

During his career, Humphries had a spell where he was dependant on alcohol and, after attending a private hospital, he abstained from drink completely, regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Cave said: “I got to know Barry little bit. He’d gone through a similar thing when I was in my first rehab.

“He was a recovering alcoholic. I kept looking around at other musicians or people that had stopped taking drugs and still did good work – it wasn’t very encouraging, to be honest, and you need this when you are trying to get clean.

“I always remember seeing this footage of Barry Humphries talking about his sobriety and saying that, ‘Life got funny’. All of his great work really happened in his sobriety and that meant a lot to me.”

Cave, known for hits such as Into My Arms and One More Time With Feeling, also spoke about the accidental death of his son, Arthur, in 2015 at the age of 15 after he fell from a cliff near Ovingdean, Brighton.

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Leonard Cohen reached out to Nick Cave after the death of his teenage son (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The musician recounted how singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen sent him an email of condolence which he described as “an extraordinary moment and a healing moment for me”.

He added: “I have never met Leonard but when my son died he sent me an email that said, ‘I am with you brother, Leonard’.

“At the time that was out of the blue, it was a compassionate act. These things kind of change the way you see the world and understand your own potential.

“These small acts of kindness can have (a) huge reverberating impact on things and I think that helped me enormously, I remember that.”

This Cultural Life airs on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday at 7.15pm.