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Funeral for British broadcaster Jimmy Savile

By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 9 2011 9:35 a.m. MST

A coffin bearing the body of Sir Jimmy Savile arrives at a Requiem Mass for the broadcaster at St Anne's Cathedral, Leeds, England, Wednesday Nov. 9, 2011. The TV and radio star, who died last month aged 84, will be buried on Thursday in the North Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough.

Jon Super)., Associated Press

LONDON — Hundreds of mourners gathered Wednesday for the funeral of TV host Jimmy Savile, a British cultural icon whose distinctive style weathered changing fashions and entertainment eras.

Savile, known for his multicolored tracksuits, blonde locks, gold jewelry and ever-present cigar, died Oct. 29 in his hometown of Leeds, northern England, aged 84.

He hosted "Top of the Pops" and "Jim'll Fix It" — two TV shows loved by multiple generations of British youth — and was, in the words of his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, "an eccentric adornment to British public life."

Prince Charles was among those who paid tribute after his death, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was among his friends, and the Bee Gees among those who sent flowers to Leeds for his funeral.

Savile's funeral cortege completed a circuit of the city before a requiem Mass at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Tony Prince, one of a generation of DJs Savile mentored, said Savile would have enjoyed the elaborate send-off.

"If there's a heaven, he'll be laughing now if he's got time," Prince said. "Because if there is a heaven, he'll be introducing Elvis on the clouds."

The Mass is part of a three-day memorial celebration planned by Savile, a vigorous self-mythologizer. He often claimed to have organized Britain's first discotheque and to have been the first DJ in the world to use two turntables, which has frequently been disputed.

A working-class lad conscripted to work in a coal mine during World War II, Savile was caught in an explosion and suffered spinal injuries. He then tried his hand as a touring disc jockey — first in pubs and dance halls and later on radio, including the renowned Radio Luxembourg.

In the 1960s he moved into television, where his odd style — jocular, cigar-wagging, occasionally yodeling — made him an improbable star.

Savile was a longtime host of the BBC's weekly music show "Top Of The Pops," launching the program in 1964 and returning to present its final edition in 2006. For almost 20 years from 1975 he also hosted "Jim'll Fix It," in which he arranged for young viewers' wishes to be realized.

Off-screen, he ran more than 200 marathons for charity, led work to collect 20 million pounds ($32 million) for the creation of a national spinal injuries center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in southern England and did regular shifts as a volunteer porter at Leeds General Infirmary and at Broadmoor, Britain's famous hospital for the criminally insane.

He was knighted in 1990 for his charity fundraising and services to entertainment.

At his funeral, cardiologist Alistair Hall announced that a new unit for heart patients, the Savile Institute, would be set up at the Leeds infirmary with a bequest from the entertainer's will.

Despite his years on youth TV, Savile claimed more than once that he hated children. He never married — telling one interviewer he'd never been in love and had no emotions — and lived alone. Part of his home in Leeds was a shrine to his late mother, whom he called The Duchess. After her death in 1973 he spent five days alone with her body.

On Tuesday, several thousand people paid their last respects to Savile in Leeds' Queen's Hotel, where his gold-colored coffin sat surrounded by flowers, photos and the last cigar he ever smoked.

In keeping with his last wishes, Savile will be buried Thursday in the resort town of Scarborough — at a 45-degree angle in the earth, looking out over the sea.

There is already a memorial bench to him in the town — he had it installed himself — bearing the words "Sir Jimmy Savile (but not just yet)."

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