Geoffrey Rush gives a tribute to his mate Bille Brown, both revered Queensland actors who began their careers at Queensland Theatre Company. He bought the painting of his friend from Archibald-prize winner Ben Quilty. It is now on loan to QTC. Photo Rae Wilson / Newsdesk
Geoffrey Rush gives a tribute to his mate Bille Brown, both revered Queensland actors who began their careers at Queensland Theatre Company. He bought the painting of his friend from Archibald-prize winner Ben Quilty. It is now on loan to QTC. Photo Rae Wilson / Newsdesk Rae Wilson

Geoffrey Rush gives special tribute to Bille Brown

"I THOUGHT I had more to do, more to give, but I know now it's time to leave."

These were among the poignant last words revered Queensland actor Bille Brown told his mate Geoffrey Rush from his hospital bed last month.

The University of Queensland graduates began their careers at the Queensland Theatre Company at age 18 and remained friends to the end.

They even celebrated Brown's 61st birthday by his hospital bed days before he passed on January 13 after a year-long battle with bowel cancer.

Rush, upon hearing Sydney Theatre Company artistic directors Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton had commissioned Brown's portrait, sought to acquire the valuable piece.

He spoke on Monday at a special tribute to his dear friend at the Queensland Theatre Company in South Brisbane where the painting now hangs.

"It's been a difficult couple of weeks," he said.

"In those bittersweet penultimate days together I told him I wanted the painting to be a gesture of remembrance of our shared lives.

"He clutched my hands and from his bright shiny eyes, tears cascading down his cheeks, I said 'It's time to get it off the side of a bus and place it in its proper home here at the studio'.

"Then he giggled with glee."

Rush told the crowd the painting had a functional origin for civic and commercial reasons adorning Sydney's billboard and public transport vehicles but "this image had a different journey in mind".

He said Archibald Prize winner Ben Quilty had initially painted the portrait as a "smart and artful harbour city poster for what turned out to be Bill's astonishing barn-storming swansong and final consummate gift to the stage", The Histrionic.

Rush - who is loaning the painting to QTC to display in the foyer of Bille's namesake studio - said the "brilliant" work had "ensnared the full dynamic of how we will all wish to remember Bill".

"It was meant to be and it is," he said.It marks the entrance to the studio which also shows Bille's journey at the company, photos from each performance since he began.

Queensland Performing Arts Centre chief John Kotzas, also a friend of the actor, said Brown was amazing and he had received tributes from his connections around world who spoke about how inspirational, wonderful and warm he was.

Hundreds attended a public memorial for Brown at QPAC after the portrait tribute.



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