Rolf Harris, a convicted paedophile and former entertainer, has passed away at the age of 93. Harris was jailed in 2014 for 12 counts of indecently assaulting four women and girls dating back to the late 1960s. He died of neck cancer and frailty of old age at his home in Bray in Berkshire, south-east England, on May 10, according to his death certificate. Harris’ family released a statement confirming his death and asked for privacy. Once a well-known entertainer in Australia and the UK, Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison by a judge who said he took advantage of the trust placed in him due to his celebrity status. After three years behind bars, Harris was released in 2017 while facing a second trial for seven more charges. He was acquitted on three and the jury was undecided on four. The prosecution decided against another trial, and Harris returned to his home near London.
Early Life and Career
Harris was born in Perth’s eastern suburbs in 1930 and had been an award-winning swimmer as a teenager. He worked as a teacher and made several unsuccessful attempts at art school before launching his television career with a slot on a BBC show in 1952. The artist and musician became well known for children’s television shows such as Rolf’s Cartoon Time and Animal Hospital. He had a number of hits in the 1960s and achieved international fame with novelty songs such as Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport and Two Little Boys, almost always accompanied by his famous wobble board. Harris went on to enjoy a 60-year career as a successful television presenter, songwriter, and artist, increasingly making his home in England. There he reached such heights that he was given the chance to paint an 80th birthday portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 and starred in her Diamond Jubilee outside Buckingham Palace in 2012.
Conviction and Stripped Honours
Allegations against Harris were probed by Operation Yewtree, investigating allegations of decades-long abuse by public figures, including the late UK TV entertainer Jimmy Savile. He was first interviewed by officers in November 2012 but wasn’t arrested until March the following year. He was charged in August 2013. It was not until 2014 that he was convicted at Southwark Crown Court of 12 counts of indecent assault from 1968 to 1986. Prosecutors said he had a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality who used his fame to exploit his victims. Among the victims was a friend of Harris’ daughter, who claimed he molested her when she was 13 to 19. Harris had said their relationship was consensual, and his relatives and friends supported him throughout the trial. But a jury convicted him of all charges, and a judge sentenced him to five years and nine months in prison. Harris was reportedly spat on by another prisoner and transferred elsewhere, before being stripped of his Order of Australia honours in 2015. The Queen also stripped him of his British titles of Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), and Member (MBE) of the Order of the British Empire. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which had described Harris as “one of the world’s most iconic entertainers,” said it would withdraw his fellowship.
Rolf Harris’ death marks the end of a long and controversial career that saw him rise to fame as an entertainer and artist before being convicted of sexual offences. While his legacy will forever be tarnished by his crimes, his death provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of holding those in positions of power accountable for their actions. It is a reminder that no one is above the law, no matter how famous or talented they may be.