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End of a North-East legend

Sunderland comic Bobby Knoxall dies

Sunderland comedy hero Bobby Knoxall has died at the age of 75.

Although he toured extensively in a career spanning more than 50 years, his fame was concentrated in the North East. He was devoted to his home city and raised more than £1million for local good causes, earning him the MBE in 2005 for services to entertainment and charity.

Knoxall, who suffered from liver and kidney problems, died peacefully yesterday at Sunderland Royal Hospital, with his wife and five children beside him.

Expelled from two schools by the age of 12, he went from an illiterate barrow boy selling fruit on Sunderland’s streets to a cabaret star appearing alongside the likes of Roy Orbison and Louis Armstrong.

Born Robert McKenna, he began his showbiz career as a dancer, after winning a local talent contest, before becoming a singer where, eventually, his between-song patter became his act. He made a return to music in 1973, to sing Sunderland’s FA Cup Final record, All The Way.

He quit performing after suffering two heart attacks, but made a comeback in 2002, when he was in his late sixties. In 2007, he had an operation to remove a cancerous bladder tumour – but was back performing a charity gig by the end of the year.

Fellow comic Mike Reid once said of him: ‘Bobby Knoxall was always a hard-hitter in the comedy stakes. He’s the toughest comedian I’ve ever known, and one of the funniest.’

Speaking two years ago, Knoxall said he missed the brutal atmosphere of some of the clubs he played in the early days.

‘Some of the clubs I played, you didn't sign in, you weighed in,’ he said. ‘I loved it, because I could always give as good as I got. In a way I preferred it. Now they all know me, know I've got the MBE and all that, and I don't get heckled any more. It's quite a pity, really.’

And of his charity work, he said: ‘If someone from the town where I was born asks me to help, I just can't say no.’

The comic's biographer, Patrick Lavelle, told today’s Sunderland Echo: ‘Bobby Knoxall was a true Mackem. Proud of his roots and always fighting the city's corner. To some he was a bit rough around the edges, yes, but always a gentleman.’

Here he is in action:

Posted: 21 Jul 2009

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