LONDON – Rolf Harris, the veteran entertainer whose decades-long career as a family favorite on British and Australian television was shattered when he was convicted of sexual assaults on young girls, has died. He was 93.
Harris “died peacefully surrounded by family and friends and has now been laid to rest,” said a family statement released Tuesday. It did not provide details.
Harris, who had a hit record with “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” was adored by generations of children for his jovial on-screen persona, and was so respected in Britain that he was once granted the rare privilege of painting a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
But his TV career, which spanned half a century, collapsed in 2013, when he was arrested in Britain in relation to sexual abuse allegations.
Many were left in disbelief when in July 2014 Harris was found guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault on four young girls from the 1960s to the ’80s. Prosecutors said he had a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality and used his fame to exploit his victims.
Among the victims was a friend of Harris’ daughter, who claimed he molested her from age 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 released on license in May 2017. That same month he was also cleared of four unconnected sex offenses that he had denied. Later that year, the Court of Appeal overturned one of his 12 indecent assault convictions.
Harris had enjoyed a 60-year career as a successful television presenter, songwriter and artist. He was best known for his children’s television shows such as “Rolf’s Cartoon Time” and “Animal Hospital,” and had a number of hit songs in the 1960s.
Born in 1930, Harris grew up in a suburb of Perth, Australia, and was an award-winning swimmer as a teenager. After several failed attempts at art school, Harris launched his television career with a slot on a BBC show in 1952.
As well as hosting children’s shows like “Rolf's Cartoon Club,” Harris was also known in the ’60s for performing popular songs including “Two Little Boys,” which became a No. 1 Christmas hit in Britain.
By the 2000s, he was considered by many to be a national treasure of sorts: The queen sat for a portrait painted by him in 2005 to mark her 80th birthday, and the painting was displayed at Buckingham Palace. He also starred in a concert celebrating the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee outside the palace in 2012.
After his conviction Harris was stripped of multiple honors bestowed on him, including awards appointing him to the Order of the British Empire and the Order of Australia. 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.
After his release from prison Harris withdrew from public life and spent his time at his home in Berkshire, southern England.