The 68-year-old New Zealand born writer and comic actor died from natural causes while hiking in the Grampians National Park in Victoria, according to an ABC spokesman.
Clarke was known for his partnership with Bryan Dawe on the Nine Network’s A Current Affair, on ABC radio and, most recently, on the ABC’s 7.30 program.
The pair’s mock interviews skewered issues and politicians with a precision belied by Clarke’s knowing, never-changing delivery.
Clarke moved to Australia in 1977 and became famous for portraying New Zealand farmer called Fred Dagg on stage, film and television.
He also created the acclaimed Olympic Games mockumentary The Games about the Sydney 2000 Olympics organising committee, co-wrote the drama mini-series ANZACs and voiced the character of Wal Footrot in animated film, Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale.
He was nominated for an Australian Film Institute award for co-writing film Lonely Hearts and in 2008 was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame.
Clarke collaborated with some of the country’s leading performers, including Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Denton, Sam Neill and Gina Riley.
In a statement released on their behalf by the ABC, Clarke’s family said “John died doing one of the things he loved the most in the world, taking photos of birds in beautiful bushland with his wife and friends. He is forever in our hearts.”
“We are aware of what he has meant to so many for so many years, throughout the world but especially in Australia and New Zealand. We are very grateful for all expressions of sympathy and love which John would have greatly appreciated.”
ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie said the unexpected loss of Clarke would be felt by everyone at the ABC and audiences across the country.
“Australian audiences have relied on John Clarke for always getting to the heart of how many Australians felt about the politics of the day and tearing down the hypocrisy and at times absurdity of elements of our national debate,” Guthrie said.
“We have lost a giant presence on our screens. Our hearts go to John’s family, his wife Helen and two daughters, Lorin and Lucia.”
Clarke also leaves grandchildren Claudia and Charles and son-in-law Stewart Thorn.
Tributes are flowing from his collaborators and many others who worked with him, or were influenced by his work, as well as public figures.
“The primary thing that made John tick was the love of his family,” Ross Stevenson, who co-wrote the Olympic Games mockumentary The Games with Clarke, told Macquarie Radio.
He also explained how much Clarke loved both his native New Zealand and adopted home of Australia.
“He was first and foremost a New Zealander,” he said.
“He said that being a New Zealander meant you understood what was meant by the word per capita … meaning New Zealand in many ways punches above its weight.”
ABC head of comedy Rick Kalowski described Clarke as Australia’s greatest political satirist.
“The passing of John Clarke – our greatest ever political satirist – is a tragic loss to his millions of fans and the entire Australian comedy community, many of whom (myself included) were inspired by his brilliance to want to work in comedy,” he said.
“John was shooting for ABC TV on The Ex-PM Season 2 until only this past Friday, and it’s almost impossible to believe he is suddenly gone. The chance to get to know and spend time with John was an honour, and ABC TV Comedy joins so many others in offering John’s family our sincerest sympathies.”
Comedian Charlie Pickering said Clarke’s work with Dawe was world-leading comedy.
“Last year Tom Gleeson and I recorded a tribute to Clarke & Dawe simply as a thank you for being our favourite thing on TV,” Pickering said. “I rang him to ask permission. The conversation got away from itself and we ended up talking about how writing a good comedy script was somewhere between poetry and physics. Whatever that middle ground is, John Clarke deserved the Nobel Prize.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Clarke was “more than a satirist”.
“With the keenest eye and wit he understood the very essence of Australia,” Turnbull said.
“He was not born here, of course, but over time he became one of us.
“His laconic wit was rarely wide of the mark. I should know. With lethal accuracy he made politicians and prime ministers his prey.
“With Bryan Dawe, his weekly takedown of the absurdity of political life became required viewing. In this guise, his strength was the underperformance – that canny knack of saying just enough to hit the target, and no more.
“In this sense, his satire served a noble purpose. It spoke truth to power. It made our democracy richer and stronger. It kept politicians on their toes. And best of all it made us laugh along the way.”
John Clarke, always the best thing in whatever he was in: https://t.co/zImjkbQ4Ng
— Tony Martin (@mrtonymartin) April 10, 2017
Besides his satirical segments with Dawe, one of his last screen appearances was in the 2015 film, A Month of Sundays, filmed and set in Adelaide.
In his final appearance in Clarke and Dawe for the ABC last week, Clarke played Treasurer Scott Morrison (see below).
– David Washington with AAP