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 impressionists, where they impersonated a host of stars, including Robert Mitchum and Mick Jagger. From July 1982 onwards, Gee was a regular on Russ Abbot's Madhouse, which made its screen debut in April 1980. 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 also appeared on ITV's talent show, Success, alongside a sixteen-year-old Lisa Stansfield making her TV debut. By this time he was a huge cabaret star in the UK, selling out theatres and nightclubs by word of mouth alone.
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 brand 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'.
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 heart attack was diagnosed. He took a month off, and returned on his birthday, to complete the run until the end of the summer, thus ignoring doctors who told him to take six months off. That Autumn Gee and Dennis recorded a series of their Laughter Show.
On New Year's night 1986, Gee had a severe heart attack whilst working in pantomime with Les Dennis in Southport, Merseyside. They were playing the Ugly sisters in Cinderella, a role they had played in Pantomine two years before in Bradford, when they 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.
Gee was unconscious until 8am on 3 January. Despite fears by doctors that he could have suffered brain damage, he sat up, asked for a cup of tea then asked for ice cream, and according to the family members with him, was "Quite chatty" and "Lucid". It briefly 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. It was attended by Elizabeth Dawn, Thelma Barlow, Dana, John Hamp, The Krankies, John Birt and Les Dennis. Floral tributes and wreaths were sent by Danny La Rue, John Cleese, Wayne King, Jimmy Tarbuck, 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 but 300 people were present.
- The Times Obituary, January 6, 1986
- Les Dennis (2008). Must The Show Go On?. Orion. ISBN 978-0-7528-9096-8.