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.
From April 1980, Gee was a regular 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'.
Illness and death
Gee himself had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and was told to take it easy. 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 mild heart attack was diagnosed. 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 a series of their Laughter Show.
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 pantomine when he recovered and asked where his watch was. 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.
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, Thelma Barlow, Dana, John Hamp, The Krankies, John Birt and Les Dennis. Floral tributes and wreaths were sent by Danny La Rue, Wayne King, Jimmy Tarbuck, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith Des O'Connor, Les Dawson, Bill Cotton, Larry Grayson, Ernie Wise, Lord Delfont, Russ Abbot and Jeffrey Holland. Many celebs were unable to attend due to pantomine commitments. Upon hearing about Gee's death, Abbot said that he was a "Great trouper and entertainer, that he was devastated by the news and that he would seriously miss him as both a friend and colleague.
- The Times Obituary, January 6, 1986
- Les Dennis (2008). Must The Show Go On?. Orion. ISBN 978-0-7528-9096-8.