A year after lavish funeral, Savile myth in ruins

Associated Press Modified: November 9, 2012 at 3:01 am •  Published: November 9, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — At Jimmy Savile's funeral, a year ago Friday, the priest delivering the homily was emphatic: the DJ and television host "can face eternal life with confidence."

Hundreds of people packed a cathedral for Savile's funeral Mass, thousands paid their respects at his coffin, and people from Prince Charles to the Bee Gees sent condolences. He was a cultural fixture, even an icon, and his BBC television shows had been part of childhood for two generations of Britons.

But a year on, Savile's reputation is in ruins. Police have branded him one of Britain's worst sex offenders, accused of assaulting underage girls over half a century. Like those who feted and praised him on that November day, millions are wondering: How could he have duped so many for so long?

A SELF-MADE MYTH

"His life story was an epic of giving — giving of time, giving of talent, giving of treasure," Monsignor Kieran Heskin told hundreds of mourners at the funeral. "Sir Jimmy Savile can face eternal life with confidence."

Savile's death, like his life, was full of self-spun mythology. He cast himself as a colorful entertainer who worked tirelessly for charity — and he choreographed his exit as carefully as an Egyptian pharaoh, leaving instructions for an elaborate three-day commemoration in his home city of Leeds, in northern England.

Thousands of people turned out to pay tribute at the Queen's Hotel, where the entertainer's coffin sat surrounded by flowers, photos and the last cigar he ever smoked. Inside lay Savile, dressed in a tracksuit and clutching a string of rosary beads.

Others lined the street as Savile was carried into St. Anne's Cathedral by Royal Marine pallbearers for a richly ceremonial requiem Mass. Later he was buried in a golden coffin, in a tree-shaded cemetery — and on a 45-degree angle so he could overlook the sea.

CHARITY SHIELD

"He had gold, jewelry and diamonds, but wealth meant nothing to him," Alistair Hall, a cardiologist at one of the hospitals Savile supported, said in his eulogy. Savile, he said, "was as he appeared — a caring man."

Savile cultivated the persona of an eccentric, curmudgeonly but generous uncle. He wore brightly colored tracksuits and chunky gold chains and drove a Rolls-Royce. On the long-running TV show "Jim'll Fix It" he made children's wishes come true. Off-screen, he ran marathons for charity and frequently visited schools and hospitals.

What now seems clear — what so many missed — is that both roles brought him into contact with potential victims: star-struck teenagers, vulnerable patients, inmates of a secure psychiatric hospital.

Cary Cooper, a professor of psychology at England's Lancaster University, said that probably nobody will ever know whether Savile used his charity work deliberately to meet victims, or simply to burnish his saintly image. "Either way," Cooper said, "it protected him more, being seen as a philanthropic individual. It served his purpose."

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