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Location: Glasgow Guide / Glasgow Information / Famous Glaswegians / Billy Connolly   

Famous Glaswegians (and those who became famous in Glasgow)<<

Connolly, Billy (William)[Born: 1942, Glasgow]

Famous Glaswegian: Billy ConnollyBilly Connolly was born in Glasgow, Scotland to Mary and William Connolly, the son of an Irish immigrant. He was brought up in the Anderston, and later Partick, districts of Glasgow and attended St. Gerard's Secondary School.

He started his working life at the age of 15, becoming a welder in a Glasgow shipyard, but left that trade to become a folk singer. Together with Tam Harvey he started a group called the Humblebums, which later included Gerry Rafferty. Connolly sang, played banjo and guitar and entertained the audience with his humorous introductions to the songs. Eventually the duo broke up and Billy went solo. His first solo album in 1972, Billy Connolly Live! on Transatlantic Records, features Billy as a singer, songwriter and musician.

His early albums were a mixture of comedy performances with comedic and serious musical interludes. Among his best known musical performances were "The Welly Boot Song", a comical ode to the working class which became his theme song for several years; "In the Brownies", a parody of the Village People classics "Y.M.C.A." and "In the Navy" (for which Connolly filmed a music video); "Two Little Boys in Blue", a tongue-in-cheek indictment of police brutality done to the tune of Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys"; and the ballad "I Wish I Was in Glasgow" which Connolly would later perform on a guest appearance on the 1990s American sitcom, Pearl. In 1985 he sang the theme song to Supergran, which was released as a single. By the late 1980s, Connolly had all but dropped the music from his act, though he still records the occasional musical performance. Most recently, he sang a song during the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

It is as a stand-up comedian that Connolly is best known. His observational humour is idiosyncratic. He talks about himself, who he is, where he's been, what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged audiences, critics and, of course the media, with his free use of the word fuck. He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, sex, his father's illness and his aunts' cruelty to entertain. By exploring these subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way. At the end of a concert the audience can be convulsed with laughter but few can remember a specific "funny" line.

One of Connolly's most famous comedy skits is "The Crucifixion", an early 1970s recording in which he likens Christ's Last Supper to a drunken night out in Glasgow. The recording was banned by many radio stations at the time. Around this same time, a joke told during a television talk show appearance (about a murderer, his dead wife, and him needing a place to park his bike) became a sensation that, reportedly, people still remember three decades after the appearance.

Connolly launched a second career as a film actor in the 1970s, and after a string of obscure and unsuccessful films, he was officially introduced to mainstream American audiences when he took over the lead role (from Howard Hesseman) in the sitcom Head of the Class in 1990, which was followed by a brief stint as the star of a Head of the Class spin-off entitled Billy. Since then, he has gone on to become a character actor of some repute, appearing in a number of major films such as Indecent Proposal, The Boondock Saints, The Last Samurai and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events . He received his best notices, including BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild award nominations for his co-starring role in 1997's Mrs. Brown opposite Dame Judi Dench.

In recent years Connolly has appeared in various Billy Connolly's World Tour of... series, in which he combines touring with travelogues, giving his views about the history and culture of the places he visits between excerpts from stage shows performed in those regions. He also visited the frozen north in A Scot in the Arctic.

Billy's second wife Pamela Stephenson and mother of 3 of his children, has written a biography Billy which outlines his career and life including the sexual abuse by his father that lasted from his tenth to his fourteenth year. Much of the book is about Billy Connolly the celebrity but the account of his early years provides a context for his humour and point of view. A follow-up, Bravemouth, was published in 2003.

Connolly himself is credited as writing several books, including Billy Connolly (late 1970s) and Gullible's Travels (early 1980s), both based upon his stage act, as well as books based upon some of his "World Tour" television series.


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