He had a brief career as an actor of male roles after service in the Navy, but achieved success as Danny La Rue in impersonation. He progressed from repertory theatre to cabaret in London’s West End. He became a star appearing in smart London nightclubs, and in 1964 opened his own club.
He was the most successful drag artiste in Britain, and among Britain’s highest paid performers in the 1960s, although hardly known in the States. His act emphasises that he is a man in drag with giveaway comments, and, in the old tradition, his wig comes off at the end.
More at home in pantomime and revue, La Rue is not really an actor, and his attempts at film, Every Day’s an Holiday, 1965, Charley’s Aunt, 1969, Our Miss Fred, 1972, Come Spy with Me, 1977, have been failures.
He appeared before the Queen in 1969, 1972 and 1978. A notable success was the live version of Hello Dolly, which opened in Birmingham in 1982 and then transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End. This was the first time that Dolly had been played by a man, and also the first time that a man played the female lead in a major musical.
He was awarded an OBE in 2002.
He spent most of his career emphasizing that he was a “normal heterosexual”, but in recent years has been more candid that he was in fact gay. He lived many years with his manager, Jack Hanson, until Jack died of a stroke.
‘La rue’ has been absorbed into Cockney rhyming slang to mean ‘a clue’.
In 2006 he suffered a mild stroke, and he died in 2009 at age 81 after suffering from cancer.
- Peter Underwood. Life's a drag!: Danny la Rue & the drag scene. London: Frewin 192 pp 1974. London: Star Books 160 pp 1975.
- “Danny La Rue”. This is Your Life. 18 Apr1984. Thames Television.
- Danny La Rue & Howard Elson, with a foreword by Donald Sinden. From Drags to Riches: My Autobiography. London: Viking 360 pp 1987. Bath: Chivers 1988. Penguin Books 1988.
- Jimmy Tarbuck. “Biography” www.dannylarue.com. 2006
- David de Alba. De Alba on La Rue. http://members.cox.net/portabello/La-rue.htm.
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