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Disgraced children's TV entertainer Rolf Harris dies at 93

Harris enjoyed a decades-long career as a family favorite on British and Australian television, a reputation that was shattered when he was convicted of sexual assaults on young girls.
Rolf Harris
Australian singer and painter Rolf Harris painting a kangaroo circa 1970.GAB Archive / Redferns
/ Source: Associated Press

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.

His death was confirmed Tuesday by a registrar at Maidenhead Town Hall, west of London, to Britain’s Press Association news agency.

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.

Rolf Harris
Rolf Harris and a lemur at London Zoo for the launch of "Rolf's Amazing World of Animals" in 1998.Peter Jordan / AP

But his reputation 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 who used his fame to exploit his victims.

Among the victims was a friend of Harris’ daughter, who claimed he molested her when she was 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 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.

Rolf Harris
Rolf Harris leaves court in London in 2017. Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images

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, 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 he starred in a concert celebrating the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee outside Buckingham Palace in 2012.

After his conviction, 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.