Comic singer John Reed, who toured the world performing Gilbert & Sullivan operas, has died on his 94th birthday, his friend and colleague said today.
The British stage star spent 20 years as the principal comic baritone with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
He entertained audiences in London, Australia, the US and Canada with his renditions of fast-rhythm "patter" lyrics.
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The comic device is a key feature of Gilbert & Sullivan's works, which include Trial by Jury, The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance.
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After retiring from the stage, Reed moved to Halifax, West Yorkshire, where he directed the local Gilbert and Sullivan society, the West Yorkshire Savoyards.
He also supported the annual International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton, Derbyshire, until failing eyesight made involvement difficult.
Festival director Neil Smith said: "Reed had an unrivalled ability to imbue his performances with both madcap humour and deep pathos, a quality which, combined with the acrobatic agility of a trained dancer,
brought him worldwide acclaim.
"Gilbert & Sullivan's Savoy operas are said to be the most widely performed works in the English language, apart from Shakespeare, and John Reed's D'Oyly Carte career made him a star in Australia, the United States and Canada as the company toured almost continuously between London seasons."
Mr Smith, who described Reed as his "courtesy uncle", said the singer had been unwell in the months leading to his death in hospital.
He lost much of his eyesight through macular degeneration and after being diagnosed with dementia just before Christmas, he suffered a stroke on February 3, from which he never recovered, according to Mr Smith.
He said Reed never married and is survived by his partner of 52 years, Nicholas Kerri.
Reed, who was also a talented dancer, made his debut with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1951 and held the "patter man" role from 1959 to 1979.
Born in Bishop Auckland, County Durham on February 13 1916, Reed was the youngest of four children.
His father owned a butcher's shop.
He won medals for dance across the North East and joined a repertory company in Darlington after the Second World War.
After leaving the opera company he continued to appear on stage as a guest until it closed in 1982.
Honoured with an OBE in 1977, Reed worked as a director and teacher after retiring from performing.