Tributes flood in for TV ‘institution’ Frank Kelly

The actor Frank Kelly, best known for playing the hard- drinking and foul-mouthed priest Father Jack in the TV comedy Father Ted, has died at the age of 77.
Tributes flood in for TV ‘institution’ Frank Kelly
Frank Kelly (right) as Father Jack with the Father Ted cast.

Kelly was a veteran of stage and screen for 60 years, including appearances on RTÉ’s satirical show Hall’s Pictorial Weekly and as Father Jack Hackett on the Channel 4 sitcom from 1995 to 1998.

Kelly passed away exactly 18 years after the death of his Father Ted co-star Dermot Morgan, who also died on a Sunday.

Dermot Morgan’s son, Don Morgan, remarked on the coincidence in a tweet.

“Isn’t life just weird? Frank Kelly going on dad’s anniversary,” he wrote.

Dermot Morgan
Dermot Morgan

Graham Linehan, the writer of Father Ted, paid tribute to the actor: “Just hearing from various sources that Frank Kelly has passed away,” he tweeted. “Terribly sad news. Thanks for everything Frank.”

Brendan O’Carroll, who co-starred with Kelly in Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, also responded on Twitter: “News of Frank Kelly’s passing just reached us in Australia. Such a lovely man and a joy to work with,” he wrote.

Kelly starred in the popular RTÉ children’s programme Wanderly Wagon alongside Eugene Lambert and Nora O’Mahoney from 1968 to 1982, playing a number of characters and writing many of the scripts.

It was Kelly’s work on Hall’s Pictorial Weekly (1970–1982) which established him as a household name in Ireland. He memorably portrayed councillor Parnell Mooney, a send-up of a backwoods local authority councillor in rural Ireland. He won a Jacob’s Award in 1974 for his role in the series.

A diverse actor with many talents, he scored a No 8 hit in Ireland and a No 26 hit in the UK in December 1983 with ‘A Christmas Countdown’, a comedy version of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’.

He also appeared in RTÉ soap Glenroe between 1999 and 2001 and later spent five months on the cast of ITV’s Emmerdale. In 2014, he appeared as the judge in Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie.

Last November, Kelly revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but said he was determined to live life to the full despite the condition.

“I’ve been working as an actor for over 50 years, and a shaky hand certainly won’t stop me. I remain open to offers for work on stage and screen. I’m quite available and my mobile is always on,” he said at the time.

Kelly had received the all-clear from bowel cancer in 2011. He was treated for skin cancer last year and also had heart problems.

His Parkinson’s diagnosis was confirmed after he was admitted to hospital in 2015 for heart failure.

“It was my first diagnosis, but I’m quietly confident that I’ve had this for years and years,” he told the Irish Sun last October, explaining that he had lived with a shake in his right hand for a long time.

Frank Kelly (right) as Father Jack with the Father Ted cast.
Frank Kelly (right) as Father Jack with the Father Ted cast.

Kelly said the Parkinson’s symptoms increased after diagnosis but then abated. “But if you are watching what you are doing, you can control it. It doesn’t interfere with your work; it doesn’t interfere with anything.

“You might have heard of the American actor Michael J Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 22 years ago and is still working today. I’m the same.”

Noel Curran, director general of RTÉ, paid his own tribute: “Frank Kelly was an Irish television institution whose career spanned decades and, in later years, countries.

“He was a versatile writer, satirist, performer, and actor, and became a household name to loyal audiences.

“I would like to extend my sincere sympathies on behalf of RTÉ to his wife Bairbre, his seven children, and 17 grandchildren.”

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