Dustin Gee performing an impersonation
|Birth name||Gerald Harrison|
24 June 1942|
|Died||January 3, 1986
Southport, Merseyside, England
|Medium||Television comedian, impressionist|
Born Gerald Harrison in York, after leaving school at 15 and studying at Art College, Gee took a job as an artist, working mainly with stained glass and for a while worked on the stained glass windows at York Minster. He played in a rock band in the evenings. The group were called 'Gerry B and the Hornets' before they altered the name to 'Gerry B and the Rockafellas'. When the group disbanded, Gee became a compere, then later a comedian. In 1975 he met his future comedy partner Les Dennis for the first time.
After 20 years in show business, he got his television break on Who Do You Do?, an ITV showcase for up and coming entertainers and impressionists, where they impersonated a host of stars, including Robert Mitchum and Mick Jagger.
From April 1980, Gee was a cast member on Russ Abbot's Madhouse programme. By this time he was a huge cabaret star in the UK, selling out theatres and nightclubs by word of mouth alone. This was the show that included his most famous impression, as Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth in two-handers with Mavis Riley (played by Les Dennis).
In 1982, Gee appeared on ITV's talent show, Success, alongside a sixteen-year-old Lisa Stansfield making her TV debut.
His take on John Cleese as eccentric hotel owner Basil Fawlty was acclaimed by Cleese himself as the "best he'd seen". Billy Connolly told his partner Les Dennis that he always wanted to meet Gee and regretted that he never did so.
When he perfected his imitation of Larry Grayson (comedy star of the 1970s/1980s), he was to be joined by him on stage and a friendship grew, so good was the 'impression'.
He formed a partnership with Les Dennis and they were given their own show on BBC 1 called "The Laughter Show". The first episode was shown on 7 April 1984.
Illness and death
In May 1985 Dustin fell ill whilst on stage on the opening night of a summer season at the North Pier in Blackpool. He carried on and was taken to hospital afterwards where a slight heart attack was diagnosed. Gee was also told he had cardiomyopathy and that he should take it easy. He took a month off, and returned on his birthday, to complete the run until the end of September, thus ignoring doctors who told him to take six months off. That autumn Gee and Dennis recorded the third series of their Laughter Show, which was shown on BBC 1 after Gee's death.
From 20 December 1985, Gee and Dennis were in pantomime in Southport, Merseyside. On New Year's night 1986, Gee had a severe heart attack. They were playing the Ugly sisters in Cinderella, a role they had played in Pantomime two years before in Bradford, when they both appeared with Russ Abbot. At the end of a scene, Gee suddenly clutched his left arm when they reached their dressing room and said "I think I am dying". He collapsed shortly after. Basil Soper, the show's company manager, revived him. Roger Edwards (his PA) accompanied him to Southport General Hospital.
On 2 January, Dennis and Edwards were by his bedside. Gee was unconscious but they both urged him to keep fighting and he raised a finger.
Gee woke up suddenly at 8 am on 3 January. Despite fears by doctors that he could have suffered brain damage, he sat up, asked for a cup of tea and for ice cream, and according to the family members with him, was "quite chatty". He thanked them for coming, said that they must see him in pantomime when he recovered and asked where his watch was. He was sat up for a while and it appeared as if he was going to survive and recover. However, later that morning he lost consciousness again and died at 12:45 p.m.
Russ Abbot said that he was devastated at the news, and called Gee a "Great trouper and entertainer."
Dustin's funeral was held on 9 January at St Oswald's Church, at Fulford, York. Three hundred people attended. Famous names there were Elizabeth Dawn, Bill Tarmey, Thelma Barlow, Dana, John Hamp, The Krankies, John Birt and Les Dennis. Floral tributes and wreaths were sent by Danny La Rue, Jimmy Tarbuck, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Des O'Connor, Tom O'Connor, Les Dawson, Bill Cotton, Larry Grayson, Ernie Wise, Lord Delfont, Russ Abbot and Jeffrey Holland. He was later cremated at a private ceremony.
- The Times Obituary, January 6, 1986
- Les Dennis (2008). Must The Show Go On?. Orion. ISBN 978-0-7528-9096-8.