- Child sex abuse convictions ended 50-year career
- The artist was imprisoned and stripped of his honors
- Harris was a household name in Britain and Australia
LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) – Rolf Harris, a mainstay of family entertainment in Britain and Australia for more than 50 years before his career fell out of favor with his conviction for indecent assault on young girls, is died at the age of 93.
Harris, born in Australia, had been seriously ill with neck cancer and was receiving round-the-clock care, local media reported late last year.
Harris died peacefully surrounded by family and friends and was laid to rest, his family said in a statement reported by PA Media on Tuesday.
An artist and musician who first rose to prominence in the 1950s with the top 10 new release “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, Harris went on to present prime-time television shows primarily aimed at children.
He played with the Beatles, painted the portrait of Queen Elizabeth and introduced himself as the affable inventor of the innovative musical instrument, the wobble board.
His song “Two Little Boys” spent six weeks at number one in Britain, the last to top the charts of the 1960s and the first of the 1970s. In 1993 his swingboard cover of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin has also charted in Britain.
But as his star faded, the veteran entertainer became one of the highest-profile celebrities to become embroiled in a massive British police investigation that followed revelations that the late BBC host Jimmy Savile, had been a prolific pedophile.
In 2014, Harris was found guilty of 12 counts of assaulting four girls, some as young as seven or eight, between 1968 and 1986 and jailed for nearly six years, although a conviction was later overturned on appeal .
He faced further charges in 2017, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict and he was released from prison that year.
During the 2014 trial, the prosecution portrayed the bearded and bespectacled entertainer as a predator who groomed and abused a woman for her entire teenage and young adult life.
Harris denied all charges and said the allegations against him were “laughable”. The sentencing judge said he showed no remorse for the harm he caused.
In 2015, Queen Elizabeth, whose portrait he once painted, stripped Harris of a royal honor she had bestowed upon him. Australia also stripped him of many honors they had bestowed on Harris.
Born in Perth, Australia in 1930, Harris was a prolific entertainer from childhood, accustomed to silly noises and voices to mask shyness, a trait he says he learned from his father. He moved to London at 22 to attend art school in hopes of becoming a portrait painter like his grandfather.
A year later, he got a job drawing cartoons on children’s television, a job that continued into the 1950s as he performed nights, singing comedy songs with a piano accordion, in a club for Australian and New Zealand expats.
It was for this crowd in 1957 that he wrote what would be his hit, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, which he said was an attempt to localize Harry Belafonte’s calypso classic “The Jack-Ass Song “.
With his relentlessly cheerful personality, Harris toured and performed on television for decades with his unusual act of fast-paced, performative painting – his catchphrase was “can you tell what it is yet?” – and sing children’s songs like “Jake the Peg”.
It was his embrace by the British establishment that ultimately brought about his downfall.
A woman who was assaulted by Harris decades earlier when she was friends with her daughter watched her 2012 TV performance at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert.
“That’s when I decided I wouldn’t have any more” and would go to the police, she later testified.
Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Kate Holton
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