Freddie Starr, who has died in Spain at 76, was the comedian immortalised by a headline of March 13, 1986: "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster".
Lea La Salle, the model who owned the rodent (called "Supersonic"), claimed the comedian demanded she cook him supper and, when she refused, put Supersonic in a sandwich and started to eat him.
Although Starr denied it in his autobiography, Unwrapped, and the story turned out to have been concocted by notorious publicist Max Clifford, it was an indication of the perception of Starr's mercurial character that the tale was widely felt to have a ring of truth.
Starr's live act sometimes verged on the manic, and his air of unpredictability and boyish grin endeared him to audiences, as did his impressions of Elvis Presley and Adolf Hitler, among others. Starr, who started out as a singer, was especially proud of his "Elvis".
Only 1.67m tall, off-stage he burned on a short fuse: he once attacked Peter Glaze, compere of children's show Crackerjack.
Starr's immoderate behaviour intensified in the early 1980s when he developed a voracious appetite for Valium and cocaine — recreations he renounced in the middle of the decade. He rarely drank, however, having had a violent, alcoholic father.
Though praised for his gifts to charities, he was not universally loved by fellow performers. Some guests in his summer shows found him an over-exuberant host.
At Great Yarmouth in 1983, for example, singer Lisa Stansfield (then 17) was, she said, "distressed" and "humiliated" to discover that Starr, in an impromptu accompaniment to one of her romantic ballads, had "crawled on stage in shorts and cocked his leg up like a dog".
Starr explained: "I was trying to help the girl out."
In August 1980 it was reported he had been throwing donkey droppings at his fellow performers.
Starr was born Frederick Leslie Fowell on January 9, 1943, the youngest in a family of five, and grew up in Huyton, near Liverpool.
At 15 he had a small role in Violent Playground, a film about a Liverpool probation officer who falls in love with an arsonist's sister. Starr's first major notice in the national newspapers came in The Sunday Telegraph in 1963, when he was performing at the Liverpool Beat Festival as Freddie Starr and the Midnighters.
The Telegraph's reporter found Starr indulging in The Stomp — "a gentle leaping about in which the arms flap wildly".
Having failed to break into the big time with various other musical incarnations, Starr decided his true talent lay as an impersonator.
His first success came when he appeared at short notice in the Bachelors' Victoria Palace Show as a stand-in for Dick Emery.
"Next thing I know," Starr said, "I'm on tour with Max Bygraves."
In 1970 he was chosen by Bernard Delfont to entertain the Queen Mother in The Royal Variety Performance and stole the show with his impression of Mick Jagger.
He established himself on television in the show Who Do You Do?, which began in 1972.
Meanwhile in his theatre shows, Starr developed something of a reputation for "blue" material. In 1973, when he performed at Chelmsford Prison, there were complaints that the show was "sacrilegious" and that one member of the audience had "taken his trousers down and urinated in a bucket".
Starr left Who Do You Do? in 1975, by which time he had acquired several Rolls-Royces and a five-bedroom house in Berkshire with swimming pool.
At the end of the decade he began to complain of stage fright and claustrophobia, and was prescribed sleeping pills and tranquillisers.
His summer shows, performed to predominantly family audiences on the South Coast, were increasingly dogged by problems including arguments and even physical altercations with his fellow professionals.
Accounts of his erratic behaviour proved a powerful disincentive to television producers. In 1980 his leading role in LWT's Variety Madhouse show was given to Russ Abbott, and in the years that followed Starr was to be best known for his appearances in the tabloids.
He returned to television in 1983 with The Freddie Starr Showcase, but seemed badly affected the next year when his friend Alan Lake, Diana Dors' widower, shot himself after her death.
In 1986, dressed in a Nazi uniform on Blackpool beach, Starr announced he was quitting show business.
Starr returned to make a successful appearance in the 1989 Royal Variety Performance. Between 1996 and 1998, ITV broadcast The Freddie Starr Show, and in 1996 he appeared in An Audience with Freddie Starr, followed a year later by Another Audience with Freddie Starr.
Thereafter he was seen principally in reality TV shows.
Starr married and divorced five times. He is survived by six children.
He owned Minnehoma, which won the Grand National in 1994.