“The brightest star in the sky”
It was a fitting final show for one of the UK’s last true entertainers with hundreds of mourners gathered in Blackpool Town Centre on Tuesday to say goodbye to the ‘legendary’ Joe Longthorne.
Some of the industry’s biggest talents were in the resort to witness the platinum album selling showman’s final performance, with his cortege travelling around many of the venues and showbiz landmarks he had performed in over 50 years of showbusiness.
Ricky Tomlinson, Roy Walker, Royston Vasey stage name Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, Johnnie Casson, The Nolans, Darren Day and Shameless actress Alice Berry were among the celebrities to join Joe’s husband Jamie, family, friends and loyal fans to honour the entertainer’s life in a requiem mass at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Talbot Road.
In special tributes read out in mass Joe was described as a ‘colossal talent’ and the ‘comeback kid’ from stars including Dame Barbara Windsor and Engelbert Humperdinck.
There was standing room only, with more than 800 in attendance for the hour and a half long service, led by Canon Robert Dewhurst PP and Father Geoff Bottoms, Chaplain to the Catholic Stage Guild, who gave the homily.
Applause rang out among the crowds as Joe’s coffin, laden in a colourful display of flowers handpicked from his beloved garden at his Layton home, was carried into the church to hymn ‘Ave Maria’ performed by Janette Monroe.
Speaking of Joe’s love for ‘simple things’ Father Geoff described Joe’s requests for his favourite hymns to be shared, including Make Me a Channel of Your Peace and The Lord’s My Shepherd .
Father Geoff spoke of a man ‘who would call all his friends’ and was able to face the most challenging times of his life with ‘deep faith and great humour’.
He added: “This is just the way he wanted it, in all simplicity among all those he loved.”
He spoke of how ‘fame and fortune was to be his destiny’ with his talents taking him all over the world from London to Sydney and Las Vegas and earning him many accolades.
One of his greatest he said, his MBE in 2012, which he received for his services to charity.
“Joe will be remembered for the memorable performances he gave - he was a star in every sense of word and touched many hearts.
“What stood out was his sheer professionalism and the faith of the man.”
Joe, who died from cancer aged 64 on August 3, battled with the disease for half of his life and Father Geoff recalled the time he was called upon to give Joe his last rites in 2005.
“He never lost his humour asking me for ‘his last orders’. His chances of coming back were so slim yet five months later he was performing again - unbelievable.”
He added: “The world may have lost a legend but Heaven has gained a Saint.”
Joe battled cancer several times throughout his life and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2005.
Joe rose to fame on Search For a Star in 1981, which led to appearances at the London Palladium before having three platinum albums.
He was known for his impressive renditions of songs in the style of Dame Shirley Bassey and impersonated Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Sir Tom Jones.
Music producer and long time friend Andy Mudd, read out tributes from fans to some of the greatest stars and spoke personally of a ‘great friend and a unique talent’.
He added: “I am here today without a set list or a script - Joe never worked to a set list or a script.
“We might have known three songs - then it was every man for himself.
“But with Joe it was about the laughs - the performance was serious but he knew how to have a laugh and everyone have a laugh with him.”
Fellow entertainer and presenter Roy Walker recalled his early seasons working alongside a ‘dear friend’ and in a emotional eulogy spoke of the ‘wonderful performances’ they shared.
“This is a tough gig but what I most admired in Joe his positivity, loyalty, trust, great humour and above all his gratitude for everyday.”
“He was the greatest entertainer....I was lucky to be part of the stable.”
Roy Chubby Brown, Johnnie Casson and friend Tony Jo also led tributes.
Superfan Kathleen Turner, 70, from Burnley, who watched Joe perform every Sunday during his seasons at Viva for the last 15 years said it was ‘a beautiful service.’
“I first met Joe when he was 15 and have followed him ever since. I was last here four weeks ago to see him - I’m heartbroken. He was a lovely, lovely man and we spoke many times over the years - he always had time for people.”
Originally born in Hull, Joe, who rose to fame on his own TV show, Search For a Star, had lined up a series of shows at Viva for his 32nd season, performing in the weeks before his death.
He had performed at many of the seaside town’s most famous entertainment venues for nearly all of his 50 years in show business.
After the funeral service, Joe’s cortege travelled to Layton Cemetery for a burial.
A public wake to celebrate his life was held at Viva Blackpool, in Church Street.
Joe Longthorne’s funeral at The Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Blackpool