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Norton, Graham (b. 1963)  
 
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A smash hit on British television, comedian and talk-show host Graham Norton has been out, proud, and outrageous from the beginning of his career.

Born Graham Walker in Bandon, County Cork, Ireland on April 4, 1963, Norton grew up Protestant in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. At the age of eighteen he enrolled in Cork University, planning to major in English and French, but he had what he described as a "psychotic episode" toward the end of his first year and dropped out.

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Norton headed to San Francisco and joined a commune. He was briefly engaged to a young American woman but broke it off when he recognized his true sexuality. He had always "felt different" but had put it down to being a member of a religious minority. While this was surely a cultural factor contributing to his sense of marginalization, Norton realized that the essential cause of his feeling "wasn't the Protestant thing."

Norton returned to Ireland and resumed his course at Cork University. After receiving his degree, he moved to London to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama and to launch a career in acting. It was at this point that he adopted the surname Norton, his great-grandmother's maiden name, since another actor was already performing under the name Graham Walker.

While a student in London, Norton was the victim of a savage attack by a gang who stabbed him in the chest, causing him to lose half his blood. Somehow he was able to make his way to the home of an elderly couple who came to his rescue. The husband called the police while the wife held Norton's hand and comforted him. After he recovered, he attempted to get in touch with his benefactors, but the police would not tell him their address. Recalling the traumatic incident, he said, "The big thing I learnt is that we don't want to die alone."

For eight years Norton supported himself as a waiter and barman while auditioning for acting jobs with little success. He began performing stand-up comedy routines at a pub where he worked, however, and, starting in 1992, he presented his shows, with such politically incorrect titles as Mother Teresa of Calcutta's Farewell Tour and The Karen Carpenter Bar and Grill, at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. His Charlie's Angels Go to Hell was successful enough to move to London in 1997.

In 1996 Norton landed an acting job on the outrageously funny situation comedy Father Ted, which premiered on Britain's Channel 4 in 1995. For the next two years he made occasional guest appearances on the show in the minor role of Father Noel, an enthusiastic if not particularly bright priest. The comedy, which was subsequently telecast on American PBS stations, brought Norton to the attention of American as well as British audiences.

The opportunity that established his television career came about most unexpectedly: he was asked to stand in as a last-minute replacement for the host of a late-night talk show on Britain's Channel 5. He was so well received that he won as Best Newcomer at the 1997 British Comedy Awards.

Because of this success, Channel 5 made Norton the host of a quiz show, Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment (1997). Although the program had only a short run, it provided a showcase for Norton's comedic talents and led to bigger things.

In 1999 Norton got his own talk show on Channel 4, So Graham Norton, which immediately became a hit. At once charming, campy, and wickedly witty, he engaged both celebrity guests and audience members in conversations in which no topic was too outrageous and no chance for a double-entendre missed.

Norton had a wide variety of guests but often brought on entertainers who are favorites with gay fans, such as Elton John, Cher, Bea Arthur, and Grace Jones. His antics frequently included getting the guests to surf sex sites on the Internet or talk on the telephone with fetishists. "It was hardly the most subtle of programs, and I was hardly the most subtle of hosts," Norton later commented.

He was, however, among the most successful. He won the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Entertainment Performance for three years running and also received two British Comedy Awards among other honors. So Graham Norton was nominated for many entertainment industry awards and won several, including a BAFTA in 2001.

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