Film director and foodie Michael Winner dies aged 77 after long illness

  • @matildbattersby

Film director, food writer and bon viveur Michael Winner died today aged 77 after a long illness.

Winner was a food critic for the Sunday Times as well as the director of more than 30 films including his famous Death Wish series starring Charles Bronson.

He had been unwell for some time, revealing last summer that specialists had given him 18 months to live due to heart and liver problems - and that he had considered going to a Dignitas assisted-dying clinic in Switzerland.

His wife Geraldine confirmed his death at their home in Kensington today.

Mrs Winner paid tribute to him in a statement: "Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous. A light has gone out in my life."

The pair married nearly two years ago at the Chelsea Register Office after a courtship spanning 50 years.

Geraldine nee Lynton-Edwards met Winner when she auditioned for his debut film in 1957 aged just 16. She was later cast in his short film The Square.

Speaking to The Independent ahead of his wedding in September 2011, Winner revealed he would wear pyjamas to walk down the aisle.

"They are handmade pyjama bottoms by Turnbull & Asser and they are very comfortable. They do actually look like nice tartan trousers," he said.

"It's true that not many people get married in pyjama bottoms but then not many wait 50 years to get married."

Winner credited Geraldine with nursing him through a rare and deadly virus called vibrio vulnificus, which can spread through the body like gangrene.

Winners friends and admirers have been quick to respond to the news of his death tioday.

Actor Cleese paid tribute to his friend in a statement on his website: "He was the dearest, kindest, funniest and most generous of friends. I shall miss him terribly."

Restaurant critic Jay Rayner wrote on Twitter: "RIP Michael Winner. He could be absurd and made some lousy films. But he could also be a rather lovely man. Winner made life more interesting."

Piers Morgan tweeted: "Very sad to hear Michael Winner has died. Hilarious, often proposterous, always generous, highly intelligent man. And terrific writer. RIP."

Andrew Lloyd Webber said: "True originals come rarely in a lifetime. Madeleine and I will deeply miss you. ALW"

Among Winner's contributions to film are the Death Wish films, set in the slums of New York and Los Angeles, the Golden Globe nominated comedy The Jokers, The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando and horror film The Sentinel starring Ava Gardner.

Winner became well known in later life for appearing in the Esure car insurance advertisements with the catchphrase "Calm down, dear!" As an actor he also appeared in Danny Boyle's BBC film For The Greater Good and in Steven Berkoff's film Decadence. He had a hit ITV series called Michael Winner's True Crimes in 1994.

He had a prolific career as a food writer and journalist with his pieces continuing to appear in the Daily Mail up until his illness. His restaurant columns appeared weekly in the Sunday Times for 15 years. He wrote about lifestyle and politics for the now defunct tabloid the News of the World for nearly a decade. From aged 14 he wrote a newspaper column in the Kensington Post called "Michael Winner's Showbiz Gossip". At Cambridge he edited the student newspaper Varsity.

A book of his restaurant columns titled Winner's Dinners was published in 1999 and became a bestseller leading to several follow-ups including The Winner Guide to Whining and Dining and UNBELIEVABLE! My Life in Restaurants and Other Places. He was famously banned from Le Gavroche.

In 1984 Winner founded the Police Memorial Trust charity in tribute to officers slain in the line of duty by placing memorials where they fell. The rights to his wedding to Geraldine were sold to Hello! magazine and the proceeds donated to the PMT. More than 50 officers have been honoured by the trust at sites across the country.

Winner was born in Hampstead in 1935, the son of Helen and George Joseph Winner. His mother was Polish and his father of Russian extraction. He was educated at St Christopher School, Letchworth and Downing College, Cambridge where he studied law and economics.

Winner grew up - and died -  in a 46 room Victorian mansion in Kensington which he has bequeathed to the nation. Describing it to The Independent in 2007 he said: "There are nine toilets and seven bathrooms - because I'm a bachelor, I don't need many bedrooms, but you could quite easily have 15 if you wanted to. At the moment, there are three bedrooms in active use - one for the housekeeper, one for me and one for Geraldine in case I snore too much."