Frank Kelly passed away last month at the age of 77. Kelly had a long and varied career spanning music, film, TV, radio and theatre.
No wonder it felt like he was always around. And I don’t just mean the constant Father Ted reruns on Channel 4. Coincidentally he passed away on the same date as his former clerical costar Dermot Morgan’s 18 years later. Last year Kelly revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Originally from Blackrock, Co. Dublin he was the son of cartoonist Charles Kelly who was also the founder of the political satire magazine Dublin Opinion.
Kelly’s earliest roll in film was in 1969’s The Italian Job as an un-credited prison guard in the opening scene. He went on to appear in RTÉ programmes such as the classic Wanderly Wagon and Anois Is Aris, which focused on people learning Irish. Above all else he will be best remembered for his role as the foul mouthed, drink loving, profanity shouting Father Jack Hackett. He followed this up with a stint on the RTÉ drama Glenroe as well as a brief tenure on Emmerdale.
Father Ted originally ran on Channel 4 in the UK between 1995 and 1998. Seen as nothing but pure blasphemy at the time, Kelly along with his co stars Dermot Morgan and Ardal O’ Hanlon poked fun at the Church in an era when views of organised religion were beginning to shift the world over.
Father Jack may have been a gross exaggeration of the clergy but he was undoubtedly memorable. In his most iconic role he cemented his place in Irish and UK pop culture. Even now reruns of Father Ted always draw in a large viewership and the annual TedFest celebrations on Inis Mór is a testament to this.
On stage he varied his roles as much as possible. Here he found his personal favourite role. He played an homosexual man in the Matt Crowley play The Boys in the Band during a run in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Another iconic stage role was when he starred alongside The Wolftones in Zoz. The comedy musical told the story of a balladeer in Dublin’s Liberties during the early 18th century.
He turned his hand to music making with the 1982 Christmas track Christmas Countdown as well a music comedy album Comedy Countdown.
More than anything it’s fair to say that Frank Kelly was one of the greats of Irish acting. He made a name for himself the world over, making his marks on all forms of media. Last year he released his memoirs, The Next Gig in which he reflected on his career and his memories of acting alongside greats of the screen such as Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan.
Frank Kelly will always be remembered as a constant source of joy in Irish media. He was a multitalented man with bags of charm and the all rounder ability to match.