Legendary actor, choreographer and dancer Lionel Blair whose career spanned seven decades has died at the age of 92.
The veteran showbiz star, who was a prominent figure on British TV screens throughout the late 1960s, the 1970s, died in the early hours on Thursday surrounded by his family, his management company confirmed.
The star’s agent said: ‘He got to a very ripe old age, he was loved by his family, and I think he died in their company, which is lovely.’
During his illustrious career, Blair, who is perhaps best known for being a team captain on the ITV game show Give Us A Clue, appeared in the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night and choreographed big screen features such as The Magic Christian.
He also choreographed and appeared in TV shows featuring stars such as Anthony Newley, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Liza Minnelli, as well as a Royal Variety performance with the iconic American singer Sammy Davis Jr.
Born in Montreal, Canada, Blair, who was born Henry Lionel Ogus, moved to north London’s Stamford Hill with his family when he was just two-years-old.
The veteran showbiz trouper, who in recent years has also appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and the BBC’s The Real Marigold Hotel, fed his early passion for performing while sheltering from air raids during the Second World War.
He was evacuated to Oxford when war broke out, with his sister Joyce and mother Deborah.
The iconic actor, choreographer and dancer Lionel Blair died at the age of 92 on Thursday morning
The legendary showbiz star, who was a prominent figure on British TV screens throughout the late 1960s, the 1970s, died surrounded by his family
The actor and choreographer pictured with his wife Susan Blair after the birth of their second child in 1971
However, the family’s stint in the countryside did not last long and they returned to London after witnessing a German plane crash leading to his father, Myer, calling them back to the capital.
‘If that can happen there, what’s the point of being in the country away from each other?’ Blair said his father told him.
His father’s parents were Russian, though Blair described him as ‘the archetypal north London barber’.
The young Blair got his first taste of showbiz by watching the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple at the cinema, before going home to copy them.
Blair was 13 when his father died after going in for surgery on a hernia and duodenal ulcer.
Speaking on his father’s death Blair said: ‘It changed everything.
It was the first time I’d ever thought, I’m never going to see him again. It was so awful and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a loss like it.’
Blair said he had to grow up ‘artificially fast’ following the death of his father, and he was already making a name for himself as an actor.
However, then came the death of his mother, leaving him an orphan.
Throughout his showbiz career, Blair has been a dancer, choreographer, TV presenter, director and actor – covering the entire sphere of the business.
In the West End he played the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, and had roles in Lady Be Good, Mr Cinders and Pageant.
He choreographed and appeared in TV shows featuring stars such as Anthony Newley, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Liza Minnelli, as well as a Royal Variety performance with Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.
The pair later became good friends and Blair selected the singer for an episode of Great Lives on BBC Radio Four in 2010.
Lionel Blair and Bruce Forsyth starring in the show A Gift for Gracie in 1970
The veteran star married wife Susan in March 1967 and once said the secret to a successful marriage is memories
Liza Goddard, Michael Parkinson and Lionel Blair as team leaders on the game show Give us a Clue
The iconic dancer with Suzanne Danielle on The Morecambe and Wise Show
The showbiz trouper with the Queen and June Whitfield at the Help The Aged Living Legends at Windsor Castle in 2006
Blair also appeared in the Beatles’s film A Hard Day’s Night as a choreographer.
However, he is best known for being captain of the men’s team on Give Us A Clue, the ITV game show.
He reprised the role in a 2011 Comic Relief special and was back on screens for Celebrity Big Brother in 2014. He spent 15 days in the house, exiting third after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.
In 2017, he was one of the celebrities appearing in the BBC reality series The Real Marigold Hotel.
Blair’s ubiquity in British entertainment helped save a man’s life.
In 2006, he and comedian Alan Carr were forced to abandon filming for a comedy to talk a man out of taking his own life.
The pair were shooting a pilot for Carr’s End Of The Pier show on the North Pier in Blackpool, when a man was seen on the edge of the pier, threatened to throw himself off.
Carr and Blair talked him down until police arrived to help him home.
‘It really scared me – I’ve never experienced anything like that before,’ Blair said.
‘We spent about 10 minutes talking to him. He just kept saying he wanted to end it all. Then someone said it was Lionel Blair from TV and he did a double take.
‘I reached out, then he grabbed both our arms and we heaved him up.’
Even in his later years, Blair maintained a healthy tan and his famous bouffant hairstyle.
Today, prominent figures took to social media to pay tribute to the veteran star who passed away at the age of 92
His cheerful demeanour and enthusiastic manner led to jokes about his sexuality – which became a running gag on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.
Blair said he largely ignored the jibes, but once sent a man to hospital after punching him when he called him a ‘fairy’.
And on claims he could be called camp, Blair said: ‘Camp?
Really? I prefer ‘flamboyant’, or ‘enthusiastic’. I’ve always been a bit over-the-top.’
Blair always remained coy over his true age and famously once said: ‘I am 59 plus VAT.’
Perhaps that reticence explains why there are conflicting results for his date of birth online – with Wikipedia listing 1928 but Blair himself saying in a 2013 interview 1932.
In 2014, Blair tried his hand at reality television as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother – which was ultimately won by comedian Jim Davidson, with rapper Dappy as runner-up.
Blair spent 15 days in the house, exiting third after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.
The star married wife Susan in March 1967 and once said the secret to a successful marriage is memories.
The couple have three children and three grandchildren.
Today, prominent figures took to social media to pay tribute to the veteran star.
Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘RIP Lionel Blair, 92.
A wonderful all-round entertainer & lovely man. Sad news.’
And author Emma Kennedy tweeted: ‘I am very glad I got to meet Lionel Blair. He was a Phenomenon. Full of magical, fruity, end with a wink anecdotes. What a career.
What a talent. £RIPLionel’
Meanwhile actor Julian Clary tweeted: ‘RIP dear Lionel Blair. A showbiz trooper if ever there was.’
Lionel Blair with Cilla Black at the Help the Aged Living Legend Awards, at Windsor Castle in 2006
The legendary star with the Prince of Wales at Tavis house in London in 2011
American singer Sammy Davis Jr, Joyce Blair and Lionel Blair at London Airport in 1966
Showbiz trouper Lionel Blair with Macmillan Cancer Relief nurses in London in 2000
Blair (pictured with Ricky Gervais) choreographed and appeared in TV shows featuring stars such as Anthony Newley, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Liza Minnelli, as well as a Royal Variety performance
Broadcaster Danny Baker tweeted: ‘The greatest showbiz story I know has Lionel Blair as it’s hero.
Honestly. I could tell it here.
‘But I knew Lionel well. He would be, ‘Oh no darling, keep it for the act, don’t throw that away, are you mad?’ So I will.
‘Blackheath Halls January 8th-9th. And bless you, Guvnor.’
Actress Bonnie Langford tweeted a picture of herself dancing with Blair, adding: ‘Dear Lionel.
Privileged to have been your dance partner.’
While Sheila Ferguson, who he appeared on the Real Marigold Hotel with, wrote: ‘OMG. I just heard that my darling #LionelBlair has passed away.
‘Iconically I was just thinking about him today.
My heart hurts. #RIPLionelBlair. Friend since the 70’s, #TheRealMarigoldHotel and beyond.’
Stand-up comedian Ed Byrne tweeted: ‘One of the highlights of my short lived Saturday morning radio show on BBC London (which I co hosted with my mother) was when we had Lionel Blair as a guest.
‘Smoking fags and knocking back gin and tonics with us at 11am.
We even got him to tap dance on a sheet of plywood. Legend,’ he said.
Christopher Biggins, TV star and friend of Blair, said the pair often spoke on the phone and Blair had called him two weeks ago but he was out at the time.
He told BBC News: ‘He was just the most wonderful, kind, funny, real giver of life.
His energy was extraordinary.’
Biggins said he got to know Blair on the long-running show Give Us a Clue which Blair did opposite Una Stubbs who also died this year.
‘He’s up there now entertaining with Una, I’m sure,’ he said.
Biggins said Blair was ‘very competitive’ and ‘loved to win’, adding: ‘He was just marvellous, a wonderful entertainer who will be sadly missed.’
The TV star said Blair had a ‘great sense of humour’ and was a ‘tribute to his wonderful family’, describing him as the ‘king of the pantomime’ and a man who was ‘adored’ by the public.
He added: ‘He could sing, he could dance, he was just like Bruce Forsyth.’
The showbiz trouper with former Prime Minister John Major, Cilla Black and comedian Ken Dodd at a Downing Street party in 1996
Actor Antony Cotton has tweeted: ‘Good night, Lionel Blair.
I was honoured to have met, and worked with him a couple of times. He was divine x’
Comedian and writer Gyles Brandreth tweeted a picture of himself with Lionel Blair, saying: ‘Lionel Blair – he was just the best: professional window installation a powerhouse of positivity and a wonderful talent as a dancer, choreographer & entertainer.
‘He told me stories of his time with Errol Flynn & Ernest Hemingway – he lived his long life to the full & leaves a legacy of style & smiles & laughter.’
Last December Blair was filmed beaming while receiving his first of two Covid jabs at an NHS vaccine centre.
He later said: ‘I couldn’t believe it when they called me.
It’s next week and then the next one is in January’ and here I am. I’m just … thinking, thank God I live here.’
The star added: ‘My back is the only thing that is weak. My doctor says it’s because of all the dancing in my career.’ I couldn’t wait for them to phone, I thought, ‘How do you get in touch?”