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UK’s First Openly Gay Rabbi, Lionel Blue, Dies at 86

LONDON — Lionel Blue, Britain's first openly gay rabbi who was known for his popular early morning radio spots, has died at 86.

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Rabbi Lionel Blue after receiving his OBE at Bucking Palace, London on Nov. 1, 1994. PA / AP File

The Liberal Judaism group said he died Monday. He was hospitalized with a chest infection and died of pneumonia.

He was a frequent guest on BBC radio's "Thought for the Day" feature, part of the widely heard Radio 4 morning broadcast.

Blue was known for the light, genial tone of his radio spots, which often shed light on Judaism and its application in modern day life. He frequently discussed his own failings and foibles.

He was often featured on the Monday morning spot that aired at around 7:50 a.m. and could be counted on to provide a measure of good cheer and wit at the start of the work week.

Liberal Judaism's Rabbi Charley Baginsky said Blue helped pave the way for gay clergy of many faiths.

"He leaves a legacy like few others," said Baginsky. "As the first British rabbi publicly to come out as gay, in the 1970s, Lionel paved the way for many others, including clergy of all faiths."

Rabbi Jonathan Romain said Blue had a unique way of mixing religious insights with honesty and humor.

"He never pretended that life was easy, or that religion solved everything; instead, he shared his own failings and foibles, and showed how to get through the rest of the day," Romain said.

He cut back on his radio work after suffering numerous health problems, including heart disease and cancer.

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