Debra Byrne

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Debra Byrne
Born Debra Anne Byrne
(1957-03-30) 30 March 1957 (age 61)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Actress, singer, producer
Years active 1969-present
  • David Dudley (ca. 1977 – 1980)
  • Neil Melville (ca. 1989 – ca. 1997) divorce
Children Lauren Ingram (née Byrne)
Arja Brunnen (née Byrne)
Lucille Le Meledo

Debra Anne Byrne (born 30 March 1957), formerly billed as Debbie Byrne, is an Australian pop singer, actress and entertainer. From April 1971 to March 1975 she was a founding cast member of Young Talent Time. She started her solo singing career with a cover version of "He's a Rebel" (March 1974), which peaked at No. 25 on the Go-Set Australian Singles chart. At the Logie Awards of 1974 she won Best Teenage Personality and followed with the Queen of Pop Award in October – both ceremonies were sponsored by TV Week. She repeated both wins in the following year.

As an actress Byrne appeared in the Australian musical theatre versions of Cats (July 1985 to mid-1987), Les Misérables (November 1987 to May 1988, December 1989 to June 1990) and Sunset Boulevard (October 1996 to June 1997). Her solo album, Caught in the Act (April 1991), peaked at No. 2 on the ARIA Albums Chart and was certified gold. In 2006 Byrne published her autobiography, Not Quite Ripe: A Memoir.


Early career as pop singer[edit]

In 1969 Debra "Debbie" Byrne made her television debut on Brian and the Juniors, a children's variety and talent quest, which was hosted by Brian Naylor.[1]:25[2] She stayed with the show for 12 months until it finished late in 1970. In April 1971 she became an original cast member on Young Talent Time, another children's talent quest, which was hosted by Johnny Young.[1]:48–50[3] Byrne proved to be a popular cast member: in March 1974 she won the Logie Award for Best Teenage Personality and the TV Week Queen of Pop Award in October.[4][5]

In March 1974, before leaving the Young Talent Time regular cast, Byrne released her first solo single, "He's a Rebel", a cover version of the Phil Spector-produced 1962 hit by the Crystals.[4][6] It peaked at No. 25 on the Go-Set Top 40 Australian Singles chart,[7] and reached No. 1 on the Melbourne charts.[4] Her debut album, She's a Rebel (1974), was produced by Young, with session musicians including Russell Dunlop on drums (ex-Aesops Fables, SCRA, Renée Geyer and Mother Earth, Johnny Rocco Band), Tim Partridge on bass guitar (Company Caine, Mighty Kong, Kevin Borich Express), Mark Punch on guitar (Johnny Rocco Band, Renée Geyer Band) and Terry Walker on guitar and backing vocals (the Strangers, Pastoral Symphony).[8]

Byrne's follow-up single was a second Crystals cover, "Da Doo Ron Ron" (January 1975), backed by the track, "Boogie Man".[4] In that year she won both the Logie Award for Best Teenage Personality and the TV Week Queen of Pop Award for a second time.[4][9] In September 1975 Byrne travelled to London to record at Abbey Road Studios with Cliff Richard producing. While in London, she made public and TV appearances, including on The Cliff Richard Show.[4]

Byrne's first Australian television guest appearance as a featured solo artist was on The Graham Kennedy Show at the age of fifteen. Since then she has made a guest appearance on every major Australian Tonight show and was a regular performer on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) series, The Saturday Show. In 1978 she merged singing with acting for the first time on the ABC's Follies series. From August 1980 Byrne co-starred alongside John Farnham in their own series, Farnham and Byrne.[10] Craig Walsh of The Australian Women's Weekly previewed a segment for a rock 'n' roll themed episode, "[its] staging promises to make the series the smash hit of 1980, say the producers" with Byrne declaring "I've just discovered I can dance better than I thought."[10]

Career stall and come-back in leading roles[edit]

Byrne's career stalled between 1980 and 1985 due to her heroin addiction, for which she undertook rehab at Odyssey House.[4] A further stumbling block occurred when a sex tape of her and a former partner was stolen and leaked to the media.[1]:435–6, 446–9[11]

In mid-1985, Byrne recorded her second solo album, The Persuader, which was produced by Peter Dawkins.[1]:288[12] She issued the single "The Persuader" in August, but neither single or album charted..[4] She made a successful and highly publicised career comeback in 1985 with the starring role as Kathy McLeod, opposite Matt Dillon, in the feature film, Rebel.[4][13] She was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role for the performance.[14] Byrne sang lead vocals on nine of ten tracks on Rebel: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1985).[15][16]

Theatre roles[edit]

From July 1985 to mid-1987 she portrayed Grizabella in the original Australian musical theatre production of Cats, initially at Sydney's Theatre Royal.[4][17] In July 1987 she featured in Jerry's Girls in Sydney and then Melbourne, in October.[18] She took the role of Fantine in the original Australian cast of Les Misérables from November in that year.[18] She reprised that role on a various artists' album, The Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Misérables (1988), which featured the best performers from worldwide productions.[19] The album won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. She also recorded a little-known ecological song, "Nature's Lament", with the Australian cast of Les Misérables.

On 25 January 1988 Byrne performed at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in the Royal Bicentennial Concert for the Prince and Princess of Wales.[20] Byrne was also portraying Fantine that evening at the Theatre Royal: she was required to "dash between her dying and ghost scenes of Les Misérables to sing a finale anthem" at the Australian Bicentenary celebration.[20] Her backing group for the concert comprised 1500 children. In December 1989 Les Misérables, with Byrne continuing her role as Fantine, began its run at Princess Theatre in Melbourne.[18]

Byrne released her third solo album, Caught in the Act, in April 1991, which peaked at No. 2 on the ARIA Albums Chart and was certified gold.[21] It is a "collection of show tunes" including, "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Memories".[22][23] At the ARIA Music Awards of 1992 it was nominated for Best Adult Contemporary Album.[24]

In April 1994 she released her next contemporary album, Sleeping Child, for which she co-wrote tracks with Pete Bowman, Paul Kelly, Paul Norton and Tom Kimmel; she also co-produced the album with Mark Moffatt.[22] Session musicians were Moffatt, Jack Jones (of Southern Sons) and Mark Punch (Renée Geyer Band) on guitars; Joe Creighton (The Revelators) on bass guitar and Alex Pertout on percussion.[25] It includes songs about her children, relationships, sexual abuse, substance dependence, loss and grief.[1]:349–53, 357[25]

During mid-1995 Byrne starred in the role of April in Hot Shoe Shuffle for the Auckland and Sydney seasons.[26] When the original leading lady, Rhonda Burchmore, left to have a baby, Byrne was asked to fill-in by the choreographer-director, David Atkins.[26] However, she "could not tap, and she had to learn for the show after previously only doing selected steps in the musical Jerry's Girls and Atkins's last show, Dancing Dynamite."[26]

From October 1996 she played Norma Desmond, opposite Hugh Jackman as Joe Gillis, in the first Australian production of Sunset Boulevard.[4][27][28] The show "was struck by a number of setbacks even before opening night."[4] Byrne had suffered back problems, "it seemed the show would be cancelled."[4] Brian Stacey, the musical director and arranger, was killed in a hit-and-run accident on the eve of its opening night.[4] The show's Melbourne run finished in June 1997.[4][28]

In May 1997 Byrne released her fifth studio album, New Ways to Dream. Andrew Gans of Playbill opined that "it is a wonderful recording. Byrne has a throbbing voice that is one of the most emotional sounds you'll encounter. To me, the late Nancy LaMott's voice always sounded full of 'warmth'; similarly Byrne's voice sounds full of warmth plus a life of 'battles won and lost.'"[29] She performed a duet with Jackman on a medley of Stephen Sondheim's "No One Is Alone" and "Children Will Listen" from his musical play, Into the Woods.[29] Gans felt the duet was "another highlight" as "the two create a moving, mini-drama."[29]

Television roles[edit]

Byrne has appeared on television dramas: The Flying Doctors (as Anthea Griffin, 1991), Police Rescue (as Maria Mellick in 1991, as Tricia Mellick in 1992), Home and Away (44 episodes as Julia Bowman, 1992), Law of the Land (as Jen Jardine, 1993), State Coroner (as Tracy Dabovich, 1998) and The Secret Life of Us (four episodes as Peta, 2002).

Cabaret and concert performances[edit]

Byrne's live cabaret, Caught in the Act Again, commenced during mid-1999, it included both show tunes and some original material. The first half was "a little too low-key, mostly because the songs all have a similar, slow, acid-jazzy tempo" according to Fiona Scott-Norman of The Age.[30] She was backed by John McAll on piano and Don Hirini as backing vocalist; she also co-wrote some material, including "I Don't Make the Rules", with Hirini.[30] Caught in the Act Again earned a Green Room Award nomination for Best Cabaret Performance and Best Musical Arrangement.

Her cabaret work includes writing, directing, choreographing and starring in Girls, Girls, Girls from May to June 2002.[31] The show also starred Wendy Stapleton and Lisa Edwards (replaced by Nikki Nicholls) as a tribute to the Supremes, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Patsy Cline and Lulu.[32][33] In 2002 it won the Herald Sun Best Cabaret Award.[31][34] The shows had sold out before they opened.[35] In subsequent years Byrne, Stapleton and Nicholls periodically resumed Girls, Girls, Girls.

Since 1972 Byrne has been a regular performer at the Christmas Eve Carols by Candlelight concert at Melbourne's Sidney Myer Music Bowl. At the 2005 concert she performed a duet of Silent Night with her five-year-old daughter, Lucille, who was making her professional stage and television debut. In late 2006 her autobiography, Not Quite Ripe: A Memoir, was published on Pan Macmillan.[36] She described how the book took her four years to write, "On and off. I wrote and I didn't write."[36] Byrne reprised her role of Grizabella in the ExitLeft production of Cats, which was staged at the Derwent Entertainment Centre in Hobart in late-October 2007.[37]

2009–present: stage and television roles[edit]

In April 2009 Byrne played the role of Sue Barnes in Metro Street at its world premiere in Adelaide and its subsequent tour to South Korea, with an appearance at the Daegu International Musical Festival (see Daegu) in June.[38][39][40]

From 29 July 2010 to April 2011 she played the role of the Bird Woman in the original Australian production of the stage musical, Mary Poppins at Melbourne's Her Majesty's Theatre.[41][42] She reprised the role in its Sydney run at the Capitol Theatre.[43] From May to June 2012 Byrne played the role of Claire Christie in the Nine Network's Tricky Business.[44]

From February to March 2014 she appeared on a dramatised crime biography, Fat Tony & Co., portraying Judy Moran, wife of Lewis Moran who was part of the Carlton Crew which were involved in the Melbourne gangland killings.[45] Fat Tony & Co. focused on the rise and fall of convicted drug mastermind, Tony Mokbel,[46] and is an offshoot to the first series of Underbelly (February–May 2008).[45] Byrne described her portrayal of Moran "You'd be surprised what I wear as Judy that's from my own wardrobe [...] There's a definite air of the theatrical about her and a lot of what I saw Judy wearing ... I thought she wore some really nice clothes. Everything she wore was so over the top."[45]

In 2016 she took the role of Carlotta Campion in a concert version of Follies at the Melbourne Recital Hall for a limited run of three performances in May.[47] In August she worked with Vika Bull in their Carole King tribute show, Tapestry.[48][49] In late 2016 or early 2017, Byrne is due to appear on the third series of ABC comedy, Upper Middle Bogan.

Personal life[edit]

Debra Ann Byrne was born on 30 March 1957 in Fitzroy to Norman Owen Byrne (born ca. 1928 – 2014) and Verna Alice née Reid (ca. 1930 – 1980).[1]:2, 10 She was the fifth of six children, her siblings are Lynda, Cheryl, Sandra (ca. 1951 – 1970), Peter and Robyn.[1]:2, 63 Norman worked as an engineering foreman; he became violent when drunk.[1]:2–18[50] According to Byrne she was sexually abused by her maternal grandfather, Ken Reid, from a young age until 13.[1]:55–58, 344[50] In 1993 Byrne dropped the usage of "Debbie" as her first name.[25]

During her stint in Young Talent Time Byrne had a sexual relationship with "Michael", an on-set boom-camera operator: she was under-age and he was more than ten years older.[1]:68–102[51] She later recalled, "I didn't feel protected at all. The attitude was, 'It's over now, it's finished', but this was personal and embarrassing and humiliating and distressing ... Parents need to be aware that even now, with the best protections in place, there's going to be someone who cares more for the product than the child. No law can change that."[51]

In February 1975 she was hospitalised due to "a nervous collapse brought on by a strenuous touring campaign."[52] Her support slot on a tour for United States singer, Gene Pitney, was taken up by Samantha Sang.[52] Byrne described how "I was drinking, smoking, barely eating, and spending a lot of time in hotel rooms fighting anxiety and depression."[1]:132

By October 1978 Byrne was married to David John Dudley (born ca. 1956) and the couple lived in Elwood.[1]:132, 148 In that month the pair were cleared of drugs charges; Byrne declared that "she knew of some entertainers who had 'come to grief' by being associated with drugs. She had been to one or two parties where drugs were being used but she did not mix with that section of the entertainment industry."[53] Later she recalled meeting Dudley at a party where her "latest boyfriend was an everyday dope smoker and I loved the freedom the drug gave me."[1]:132 Her marriage to Dudley broke-up in 1980 and her mother died in that year.[54]

During 1987 while rehearsing for her role of Fantine in the Australian theatre production of Les Misérables, Byrne met fellow actor, Neil Melville.[55] By June 1989 the couple were planning their wedding.[56] Byrne and Melville separated in November 1996 and later divorced.[57]

Byrne's performances as Norma Desmond on Sunset Boulevard from October 1996 to June 1997 were interrupted by "her frequent and sudden absences from the show [which] were partially blamed for the show's lack of success" despite "great critical notices."[58] She had attempted suicide late in 1997 and was being treated by a psychiatrist to feel "more focused and driven than ever before."[58] She was diagnosed with clinical depression and undertook a course of prescription medication.[58] In March 1998 she told Peter Ford of Playbill that "Nobody ever bothered to investigate if that was my major problem, when finally I had a label for my troubles it was a great relief."[58]

Byrne was the domestic partner of French musician, Ced Le Meledo, with whom she collaborated on the live show, Paris-Melbourne. The couple separated in 2006.[59] In that same year her autobiography, Not Quite Ripe: A Memoir, was released and described by her publisher as "the real story of her gritty, sometimes perilous existence as she chased her career, became addicted to heroin and finally rehabilitated herself".[36] Byrne has three children: Arja, Lauren and Lucille (b. 12 July 2000). Lucille has also performed in theatre.[25][59]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1974 TV Week Logie Award for Best Teenage Personality,
  • 1974 TV Week Queen of Pop Award,
  • 1975 TV Week Logie Award for Best Teenage Personality,
  • 1975 TV Week Queen of Pop Award,
  • 1985 AFI Award nomination for Best Actress in a Lead Role for Rebel[14]
  • 1985 Mo Award for Female Vocal Performer,
  • 1991 Grammy Award for Best Theatre Musical Soundtrack, shared with cast of The World Symphonic Recording of Les Misérables,
  • 2002 Herald Sun Best Cabaret Award for Girls, Girls, Girls,
  • Green Room Award nomination for Best Cabaret Performance and Best Musical Arrangement for Caught in the Act Again,
  • 2009 Daegu Musical Award for Best Actress for Metro Street.


Studio albums[edit]




  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Byrne, Debra (2006), Not Quite Ripe: A Memoir, Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-4050-3765-5 
  2. ^ "Remembering the Juniors". Television.AU. 7 June 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  3. ^ "Young Talent Time reunited on ACA". Television.AU. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'Debra Byrne'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 29 August 2004. 
  5. ^ "Logie Awards: 1974". TV Week. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  6. ^ "Debbie Byrne – 'He's a Rebel'". Where Did They Get That Song?. PopArchives (Lyn Nuttall). Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  7. ^ Nimmervoll, Ed (17 August 1974). "National Top 40". Go-Set. Waverley Press. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  8. ^ She's a Rebel (liner notes). Debbie Byrne (performer). L & Y Records. 1974. L 35362. 
  9. ^ "Logie Awards: 1975". TV Week. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  10. ^ a b Walsh, Craig (2 July 1980). "Back to the 50s... Rock 'n Roll Blast-off!". The Australian Women's Weekly. 48 (5). p. 2 (Your TV Magazine). Retrieved 10 September 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  11. ^ "Celebrity sex tapes". The Daily Telegraph. News Corp Australia. 6 April 2007. Archived from the original on 21 February 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  12. ^ Byrne, Debbie (1985), The Persuader, EMI, retrieved 11 September 2016 
  13. ^ Stratton, David (1990). The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry. Pan MacMillan. p. 114. ISBN 0-7329-0250-9. 
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  16. ^ Malone, Peter (25 March 1996). "Michael Jenkins". Peter Malone's Website. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  17. ^ "Event: Cats". AusStage. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
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  19. ^ "Les Misérables – Complete Symphonic Recording". RecordPusher. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  20. ^ a b David Monaghan, ed. (17 December 1987). "Today's People: Big Names for Royal Concert". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 September 2016 – via Google News Archive Search. 
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  23. ^ "Caught in the Act > Debbie Byrne". Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
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  27. ^ Hallett, Bryce; Meade, Kevin (2 February 1996). "Sunset Boulevard casts its net". The Australian. News Corp Australia. p. 10. 
  28. ^ a b "Event: Sunset Boulevard". AusStage. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  29. ^ a b c Gans, Andrew (25 April 1997). "Diva Talk: News from the Big Four, and More..." Playbill. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  30. ^ a b Scott-Norman, Fiona (18 June 1999). "Byrne's Emotional and Courageous Performance". The Age. Fairfax Media. p. 15. 
  31. ^ a b "Event: Girls, Girls, Girls". AusStage. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  32. ^ "Australia Day Ambassadors – Wendy Stapleton". Australia Day Committee. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  33. ^ "Australia Day Ambassadors – Lisa Edwards". Australia Day Committee. Archived from the original on 1 December 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  34. ^ Hanusiak, Xenia (21 May 2002). "Review: Girls, Girls, Girls". The Herald Sun. p. 55. 
  35. ^ Scott-Norman, Fiona; Crotty, Joel (24 December 2002). "The reinvention of cabaret". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  36. ^ a b c Carbone, Suzanne; Money, Lawrence (19 October 2006). "Finally, Deb spills the beans". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  37. ^ "Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats". Archived from the original on 24 October 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  38. ^ "Metro Street". State Theatre Company of South Australia. Archived from the original on 30 September 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  39. ^ "Metro Street teacher notes.pdf" (PDF). Archived from the original on 12 September 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  40. ^ Lamb, Victoria. "Metro Street". Victoria Lamb Official Website. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  41. ^ Allen, David (4 November 2011). "Debra Byrne – life, theatre and her new one woman show". Archived from the original on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  42. ^ "Event: Mary Poppins". AusStage. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  43. ^ Cowle, June (4 September 2011). "Sunday Brunch – Debra Byrne (4/9/11)". Weekend Sunday with Simon Marnie. 702 ABC Sydney (Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)). Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  44. ^ Zuk, Tim. "Tricky Business". Australian Television Information Archive. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  45. ^ a b c "First look of Deb Byrne as Judy Moran in Nine's Fat Tony & Co". News Corp Australia. 23 November 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  46. ^ "Drug kingpin Mokbel sentenced to 30 years". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). 4 July 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  47. ^ "Event: Follies in Concert". AusStage. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  48. ^ staff writer (17 June 2016). "Vika Bull And Debra Byrne Perform The Songs of Carole King". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  49. ^ Cashmere, Paul (8 August 2016). "Vika Bull and Debra Byrne Honour Carole King with Tapestry Shows". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
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  51. ^ a b Marshall, Konrad (15 June 2013). "Young Talent Time". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
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  53. ^ "Drug charges dropped". The Canberra Times. 53 (15,718). 4 October 1978. p. 10. Retrieved 10 September 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  54. ^ Smith, Pete (11 February 1981). "Pete Smith". The Australian Women's Weekly. 48 (37). p. 40 (TV World). Retrieved 10 September 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
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  57. ^ Gans, Andrew (21 March 1997). "Diva Talk: Betty Takes 'Flight' at Maxim's". Playbill. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  58. ^ a b c d Ford, Peter (28 March 1998). "Australia's Diva Debra Byrne Readies for Major Melbourne Concert, Mar. 28". Playbill. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  59. ^ a b Marshall, Konrad (27 April 2013). "Lunch with Debra Byrne". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 

External links[edit]