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EXCLUSIVE: Denise Drysdale reveals her heartache over her friend Ernie Sigley’s death

“Just thinking about Ernie makes me smile.”
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For TV comedy queen Denise Drysdale, the passing of her great mate Ernie Sigley following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease is a bittersweet mix of sadness and relief.

“The Ernie I knew would have hated being in a nursing home, his mind stripped of precious memories of his cherished family – his wife Glenys and their four kids [Matthew, Guy, David, and Emma], his friends and of a life lived large,” says the two-time Gold Logie winner just days after the passing of her ‘TV husband’.

“When I got the phone call on Sunday night [August 15] that Ernie had gone, I felt an immediate wave of sadness… a finality. Then so many fabulous memories of our 50-year friendship flooded back.

“We had so much fun. In fact, when we were together, we rarely stopped laughing. The mischief we got up to was unbelievable,” smiles Denise.

The Gold Logie-winning duo had TV audiences in stitches with their antics

(Are Media/TV Week)

“It was Ernie who christened me Ding Dong. He had a secretary named Denise Bell, so as a joke he called me Ding Dong, and it stuck.”

Denise, 72, says she first met Ernie in London.

“It was 1970. I was with my good friend Patti McGrath [who went on to marry Bert Newton in 1974] and we ran into Ernie, so we all went for a drink.

“Then, in 1974 I did some comedy spots on The Ernie Sigley Show. We hit it off and I became his barrel girl,” she says.

“That’s how it began. That same year we had an unlikely No.1 hit with ‘Hey Paula’. We recorded it for charity and it sold over 100,000 copies.

“Ernie had a wicked wit and an incredible memory,” Denise adds.

“Occasionally, if he got a bit grumpy I’d say, ‘Shut up and sit down, you’re lucky you’ve got a job!’ and he’d quickly snap out of it.

“We were like an old married couple – in fact, many thought we were married in real life because we’d been working together for so long. It was over 40 years.

“We did TV tonight shows, game shows and panel shows together. We’ve worked on radio and performed in countless clubs.

“Ernie would pull funny faces, he’d say the most outrageous things, he was the king of double entendre.

For decades they were a beloved showbiz double act

(Are Media/TV Week)

“We cracked one another up constantly. It became a competition to see who could make the other laugh first.

“If we were at an airport lounge, I’d sneak away and have Ernie paged, which inevitably caused fans to go chasing after him. I loved playing pranks on Ern, who fell for it every time.”

Denise recalls many “crazy times” when the Melbourne-based duo were taping their TV chat show in Sydney in the ’90s.

“We’d stay at a swish hotel and would have a drink at the bar after dinner. Around midnight I’d say, ‘It’s time to go to bed Ernie’, knowing we had an early start.

“We’d go to our rooms and I’d hear Ernie sneak back out. More than once I went down to the bar, in my rollers and nightie, to fish him out of strife. That was Ernie – a total larrikin.”

Together they had major chart hit with ‘Hey Paula’ in the ’70s

(The Ernie Sigley Show)

Denise says one of their proudest showbiz moments was being presented with a Gold Logie by Hollywood legend John Wayne in 1975.

Denise says despite an incredible 60-year showbiz career that saw him win 21 Logie Awards, Ernie was a humble man.

“He was dubbed the little Aussie battler. What you saw on screen was the real Ernie. He never rehearsed – he flew by the seat of his pants and was a natural,” she says.

About 10 years ago Denise suspected something was wrong.

“Ernie seemed to be forgetting lyrics to songs we’d sung for decades. He seemed confused,” says the star.

“That, to me, was a moment of immeasurable sadness, knowing his brilliant mind was slipping away.

Ernie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

(News Pix)

“We performed our last stage show together in 2013. Three years later, Ernie’s family revealed he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“The last time I saw him was upsetting. I sang ‘Hey Paula’, and he gave me a big hug. It was very emotional.

“He said, ‘God, you remind me of someone.’ I said, ‘Delvene Delaney?’ He said no. I said ‘Denise Drysdale?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s her.'”

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