LONDON – Irish actor Frank Kelly, best known for playing a foul-mouthed priest with a fondness for the catchphrase “Feck! Drink! Girls!” in the series “Father Ted,” died Sunday. He was 77 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Despite being a gracious, posh-accented veteran of the Dublin stage, Kelly’s irreverent portrayal of Father Jack Hackett lived on long past the show’s run from 1995-98. The public embraced the chance to watch the gentle parody of the Roman Catholic Church and his irreverent character.
“Frank was an all-around talent, an institution in Irish entertainment, a very determined professional. And he’ll be greatly missed by all who knew him,” said Ardal O’Hanlon, who played a younger priest, Father Dougal McGuire, in the show.
Kelly got his big break with a role escorting Michael Caine’s character out of prison in an uncredited role in “The Italian Job,” in 1969. He later appeared in “Hall’s Pictorial Weekly,” a 1970s political satire, the drama series “Glenroe,” and the soap opera, “Emmerdale.”
But he is best remembered for this role as Father Jack, who lives on the fictional Craggy Island together with two other luckless priests and their housekeeper. Father Jack makes no attempt to hide his disdain at his fellow priests, and the lampooning of all things Catholic helped the show win multiple BAFTA awards.
Kelly died 18 years to the day after the character who played Father Ted Crilly, Dermot Morgan, died shortly after the end of filming of the third and final season.
Twitter lit up with tributes. Irish President Michael Higgins was among those offering condolences to Kelly’s family and describing it as a privilege to have Kelly as a friend.
Kelly had suffered from Parkinson’s but was determined to keep working.
“I’ve been working as an actor for over 50 years, and a shaky hand certainly won’t stop me,” he told Irish broadcaster RTE.