SCOTS comedy legend Andy Gray has died after suffering from a Covid-related illness.
The TV star – who rose to fame in City Lights and was more recently a River City actor – was also one of Scotland’s greatest-ever panto stars, headlining each year at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh.
Gray, who was 61, had worked with Elaine C Smith since they were both in their early twenties and went on to appear together in a huge range of comedy productions.
Elaine said: “The last contact I had with Andy was when we were both appearing on a radio show together, remotely. And after it he sent me a text saying ‘It was so good to hear your voice’. And I replied with the same sentiment.
“The thing was, nobody in the world made me laugh like Andy Gray made me laugh. He lit up a room with his madness. He sometimes flew too close to the sun – but when you flew with him it was wondrous.”
Smith added: “I knew he had been on a ventilator for two weeks but hoped that he’d be okay. I just felt Andy had so much life in him.”
Andy, whose partner is actor Tamara Kennedy, had travelled to Milton Keynes before Christmas with the intent of working in panto. The panto was cancelled. But it’s believed he could have contracted Covid during the journey.
In spite of suffering from MDS (myelodysplastic syndromes, a form of leukaemia) in recent years, Gray pushed any Covid fears aside because he lived to work.
“That’s exactly true,” said his River City co-star Gayle Telfer Stevens, who played his wife in the TV soap. “He loved the work. And that came across every day, in every scene he appeared in. And he was excellent and he exuberated excellence.
“When you were in the room with Andy you were aware he had such a presence. But there was more. He was so very giving. He made working life magic.”
Andy, whose daughter Clare is also an actor, was a natural comic who couldn’t help but elicit laughs. Growing up in Perth he joined Perth Rep and managed to create comedy where others couldn’t even see it existed.
He would go on to feature with Dario Fo plays, and appear in most of Scotland’s major theatres.
The radio and television break came about however when the joined the BBC’s Comedy Unit, appearing in Naked Radio and Naked Video, going on to star in City Lights as Chancer, the likeable layabout, opposite the late, great Gerard Kelly. Their pairing was perfect.
Later in River City, Andy revealed he could bring an energy – and often a hint of devilment to the process of acting – few would ever consider.
“When he came on to the set I had no clue what I was getting myself into,” recalled Telfer Stevens. “But I remember doing that first scene with him and he was fantastic. He then said to me ‘Wow, that was amazing,’ which made me feel so good about myself. I know that Andy did that for so many actors.
“But he could also be wild. One scene required Andy’s character to surprise the rest of us, and in the script it called for him to appear caught in his boxer shorts.
“However, that wasn’t enough for Andy. Just so the camera could capture the rest of us looking really surprised when we walked into the room where he was waiting there was Andy – standing stark bollock naked.”
She added: “Working with Andy was a moment in time I will never forget for the rest of my life. I’m so happy to have had him every day, in mind body and soul.”
Rab C Nesbitt writer Ian Pattison had only one actor in mind when he wrote the Edinburgh Festival Play Willie And Sebastian, in which Andy played the fun-loving, life-squeezing adventurer Willie Donaldson, alongside his best pal, actor Grant Stott.
Andy’s career had been defined by his madcap energy, on stage and in real life, which was reflected in his speech; he was too busy rushing through life to deal with diction.
“Andy won a Fringe Award for that role,” says Pattison. “And it wasn’t hard to see why. What was so noticeable was that Andy Gray simply loved performing. And he was great to work with.”
Pattison added: “He once told me his comic mentor was Eric Morecambe and I can understand why. There was some of the Morecambe about Andy Gray. Both incredibly funny men.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined others in paying tribute.
She tweeted: “So sad to hear this. Andy was a legend of the Scottish acting community, from City Lights, to panto, River City and so much more besides. He was also a funny and really lovely guy. He will be sorely missed by many. My condolences are with his family and friends.”
Andy’s close friends and panto co-stars Grant Stott and Allan Stewart were unable to comment.
Elaine C Smith however fought back tears to sum up her friend of 40 years. “He was a real person,” she said. “He had faults. He was complicated. Childish. Laddish. But at his best he was incredibly joyous.
“He was Andy. And he was quite simply a legend.”