Fans, family and friends have said a final farewell to comedian Freddie Starr, whose coffin was engraved with the words “Return To Sender”.
Dozens of mourners turned out for Starr’s funeral in Prescot, Merseyside.
As well as his comedy, he was known for his Elvis Presley impressions.
Fittingly, the coffin was carried into the church to the strains of Starr’s rendition of Elvis’s song Don’t, and was applauded as it was carried back out to another Elvis cover, Trouble.
“Liverpool legend” was etched on one side of the casket, with “Return To Sender” – also the title of an Elvis track – on the other.
Braving the rain outside Prescot Parish Church, many fans wore red jackets, ties, scarves, socks or shoes after a request for mourners to honour Starr’s famous red Teddy Boy jacket. Others carried or wore red roses.
The comedian died in Spain at the age of 76 and might have had a pauper’s funeral there, until a UK undertaker stepped in and offered to cover the costs of repatriating his body and organising the service.
Canon John Taylor read tributes from family members, including the entertainer’s daughter Ebony.
“Rest in peace to my hero, my father,” her message read. “You have inspired me to be the best I can possibly be, and to be a good role model just like you. I will never forget you in a million years.”
‘Complications and controversies’
Reading a tribute from Starr’s sister Brenda, Canon Taylor said she had “many memories of his personal kindness and generosity”.
In his own remarks, Canon Taylor said: “Freddie’s life wasn’t without its complications and controversies.
“But his comic genius brought side-splitting laughter and fun to thousands.”
He also acknowledged “the number of fans here today and outside who have kept faith with Freddie”.
The comedian, singer and impressionist died penniless, according to his family, after losing a 2015 defamation case against a woman who said he had groped her when she was 15.
In 2012, Starr had been arrested by police investigating allegations of historical sexual offences. But he was never charged.
Sheffield-based undertaker Michael Fogg offered to help Starr’s family after seeing reports about the entertainer’s possible resting place, saying a pauper’s funeral would have been “wrong”.
Starr’s family accepted his offer to cover the £20,000 cost of repatriating Starr’s body and organising the service in Prescot.
Starr’s niece Jean Fowell told BBC News: “Freddie had no money left, and the family accepted that offer,” adding that he was a “lovely, pleasant, generous, down-to-earth” man.
Starr was married four times and had six children.
Mr Fogg added: “I just wanted him to have a proper funeral. I enjoyed watching him on TV. Anybody who can make an undertaker laugh must be a bloody good comedian.”
Starr’s friend Melvin Storer, from Colville, Leicestershire, said: “He lived above a karaoke bar in Spain and basically he died a pauper… But he was one in a million.”
Fan Delia Cainey, 56, from Gloucestershire, went to the funeral in a T-shirt bearing a photo of Starr below the letters “RIP”.
“We just wanted to show that he gave us hours and hours of endless fun in the 70s and 80s,” she said.
“A lot of people after the [Operation] Yewtree case had forsaken him. When he was cleared he still couldn’t get back into the limelight.
“He had thousands of fans who still loved him, kept in touch with him and today we’re going to try to give him a really good send off. We’ve come from all around the country.”
Michael McGuinness, 22, from Prescot, had been introduced to Starr’s routines by his parents.
“Me and my mum, every time we’re in the house we always get a couple of beers and we always put his videos on YouTube,” he said. “He was hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. His Elvis impersonation, his Adam Faith impersonation – hilarious.”
The ceremony lasted less than half an hour, and the hearse was applauded as it arrived at the church and when it departed for a private burial.
Starr grew up in nearby Huyton and is being buried next to his mother.
The entertainer rose to prominence in the early 1970s, becoming a fixture on TV in the 70s and 80s, and famously featured in The Sun newspaper’s “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” headline in 1986.
He later took part in ITV’s I’m a Celebrity but left the show after being taken to hospital following a suspected allergic reaction.
He suffered from ill health and in 2010 had bypass surgery after a heart attack.
Read more: www.bbc.co.uk