First king of Irish comedy Brendan Grace, dead at 68

The president of Ireland and the Taoiseach have paid tribute to Father Ted star Brendan Grace, who has died at the age of 68 after a short illness.

The veteran entertainer, who was also a stand-up comedian, played Father Fintan Stack in the popular comedy series about three priests.

He died on Thursday, surrounded by his family, after being diagnosed with lung cancer 10 days ago, his manager confirmed.

He is survived by his wife, Eileen, and their four children, Bradley, Melanie, Brendan and Amanda.

Brendan Grace in character as Bottler, one of his most famous characters.

Brendan Grace in character as Bottler, one of his most famous characters.

The actor, who also starred in 2013 TV film Brendan Grace's Bottler, had lived in the US for many years, but returned to his native Dublin in early June, where he was first diagnosed with pneumonia, before his terminal cancer diagnosis.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said he learned of Grace's death with great sadness.

"As a comedian, Brendan's spontaneous wit and his sense of timing, his obvious delighting in interaction with his audiences, meant that Brendan's sense of humour was drawing from, and itself a profound contribution to, the deep wellspring of Irish wit," he said.

"It was a privilege to know him, and a pleasure to meet Brendan as recently as the 5th of June last, when he accompanied The Forget-Me-Nots choir to a garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin.

"As President of Ireland, I express my deepest condolences to his wife and children, and to his wider family and his friends, and all who valued his acuity and sharp sense of humour."

Tom Kelly, Grace's manager for 27 years, speaking on Virgin Media One's Ireland:AM programme on Thursday morning, said the entertainer's death is a great loss to Ireland.

"Although he was aware of the outcome himself in the last few days when the cancer was diagnosed, it's a great shock to everybody," he said.

"He was very weak, he didn't wish to have chemo or anything like that, and the inevitable happened.

"He was one of the greats in modern entertaining, it's a huge loss."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute on Twitter, writing: "RIP Brendan Grace, an Irish comedy legend. You made us laugh so many times, from Bottler to Father Ted and so many others. One of the greats. Our thoughts are with Brendan's friends and family."

Grace was a regular visitor to Australia, most recently in 2015.

In an interview with the Irish Echo ahead of that tour, he was asked to explain the secret of his success.

“Hard neck,” he said. “The reason things went well was I always kept my humour simple, and I sang a few songs as well. My attitude was ‘give the people what they want’. And I always managed to keep the act clean, so older people and younger people were still able to come along without being offended.”

And comedian Brendan O'Carroll, writer and star of Mrs Brown's Boys, said: "So sad at the passing of a great comedy legend, husband and father Brendan Grace.

"He opened doors for so many of us and leaves a legacy of love and laughter that will echo through this land and we will all mourn his passing. Rest peacefully Bottler, you've earned it."

Brendan Grace with another Irish comedy legend Hal Roach, in 2002.

Brendan Grace with another Irish comedy legend Hal Roach, in 2002.

Thousands of messages have been posted by fans across social media recalling fond memories of watching Grace with their families, calling him a "legend of Irish comedy".

Dee Forbes, director-general of Ireland's state broadcaster RTE, said: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Brendan Grace. Brendan was one of Ireland's original funnymen, and one of Irish comedy's true pioneers.

"While there are now many Irish comedians who are household names, Brendan emerged as a talent during an era when there were very few established Irish comedians.

"Through his live shows, his live recordings, The Brendan Grace Show and many memorable guest appearances on RTE's The Late Late Show, Brendan established himself in the hearts of generations of fans, not just in Ireland but all over the world.

"Importantly, he also paved the way for many of the wonderful comedians this country has produced over the last 20 years or so and leaves behind a legacy he and his family can be proud of.

"He will be deeply missed. My thoughts and those of his many friends and fans across RTE are with his family and friends at this sad time."

Funny Man, a documentary directed by Brian Reddin which looked back over the career of Grace, will be repeated at 10.15pm on Friday on RTE One.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe, opened a Book of Condolence for the people of the city to pay their respects.